Society

Netflix And French Cinema: Love-Hate Sequel Of A Hollywood Past

After a rocky start, relations between the streaming giant and the French film ecosystem have improved thanks to Netflix investments in local production. But ensuring long-term independence of French films from the Hollywood system is still a battle.

French actor Omar Sy in Netflix Show 'Arsene Lupin', 2021.
French actor Omar Sy in Netflix Show "Arsene Lupin", 2021.
Nicolas Richaud and Nicolas Madelaine

PARIS — We might as well say it right away: With Netflix, the French cinema world doesn't quite feel like celebrating a successful marriage, as it did with French TV channel Canal+ in the 1980s. Still, relations have warmed considerably with the U.S.-based streaming platform. "As good Americans who respect themselves, they considered us, at the beginning, as a village of indomitable Gauls," says a veteran French film producer. "We have learned to tame each other."

Netflix has recently made some seductive moves in France. Last January, it inked a collaboration with the Cinémathèque française film archive in order to preserve historic movies, which will result in the restoration of Abel Gance's Napoleon, a film from 1927. In 2020, the American platform also made a deal with French production and distribution company MK2 to be able to offer films on its platform by the likes of prestigious directors François Truffaut, Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Demy …

But its focus goes far beyond these symbols. One of Netflix's key strategies is to produce original local content. So it began working hand in hand with French cinema producers and a pool of filmmakers. "They were meant to become business partners," notes Lauren Creton, Associate Professor of Film Economics at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle. "Netflix really needs French cinema to expand its offering, especially since film lovers are often disappointed with its portfolio."

This new venture for the film production ecosystem has undoubtedly enticed a part of the industry at a time when its finances are dwindling. "Netflix has been a breath of fresh air," says Matthias Weber, a producer of a film (La Grande Classe, or Back to School in English) for Netflix, which also bought the video-on-demand rights to several of his feature films. "It looks for different typologies of works from the traditional players and enables us to introduce genre films that are hard to pay off in theaters."

Less dependent on TV ratings and targeting a young audience, Netflix is also open to other talents that are not part of the establishment. "I wanted to make a movie, I did, but I didn't wait for Canal+, and I didn't wait for the CNC National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image," rapper Kery James recounts in his song "Who's to blame?" extracted from the soundtrack of Banlieusards (Street Flow in English), which he co-directed with Leïla Sy for Netflix, after having been turned down everywhere else.

Netflix's focus on storytelling and efficiency has also appealed to some young producers — such as Zangro behind the movie Mignonnes (Cuties), whose international rights were bought by Netflix — who try to benefit from the impact of their films. And even though its algorithms may ultimately dictate its strategy, the movie platform lets the talents of the seventh art express themselves once they've been signed.

Distribution in theaters is still the very definition of a film in this country.

But from basic flirting to real love story there's only one step that yet hasn't been taken between Netflix and French cinema. Why? Because in France, the system of public support to cinema is based on distribution in theaters first. For lack of anything better, distribution in theaters is still the very definition of a film in this country.

However, a new era is opening up. Tough negotiations are underway in order to bring Netflix into the traditional French system. And as other broadcasters, it would then have funding obligations — that would go up to €40 million for cinema by 2023, according to expectations — and be able to let its movies play in theaters. This would be a sort of small miracle in itself. Never has Netflix made exceptions to its model, reserving its contents to its subscribers. "We'll do the math at the end of the game," says Marc-Olivier Sebbag, general delegate of the National Federation of French Cinemas.

And with its multimedia content reserved for its subscribers, Netflix has been accused of taking advantage of the French ecosystem, which has been cultivated and supported for years by traditional broadcasters. The platform is indeed taking advantage of filmmakers with generous checks, while at the same time avoiding funding obligations and destroying à la française copyright law, thus imposing its American model. It was largely because of these complaints that the Cannes Film Festival decided to ban Netflix movies from the contest.

Ultimately, Netflix's entering the traditional French system means that it must let it broadcast films fairly quickly after their distribution in theaters, instead of the current three-year period. And as a result, traditional TV channels — particularly Canal+ but also TF1 and M6 — are worried that Netflix might be able to snatch the best exclusives after their distribution in theaters, especially American films.

The French cinema industry knows its golden age is over. But it fears that it might lose its artistic freedom in a world where movie platforms become utterly dominant. "Even if we have to update our traditional system, it is of the utmost importance that Netflix and other platforms fit into our virtuous model, which has lasted for half-a-century and whose values and spirit we must preserve," says Matthias Weber. "Along with Bollywood, French cinema is one of the last film industries not to have been absorbed by the Americans."

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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