A group of 15 of the UK and Ireland’s leading independent cinemas are appealing to Netflix to widen the scope of its theatrical release strategy in the territories beyond its closed deal with independent distributor and exhibitor Curzon Cinemas for films including David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King, Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA and Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs.
“We as independent cinemas are not able to book and screen Netflix films because the deal is, in fact, exclusive to Curzon,” said the letter. The group is spearheaded by Mark Cosgrove, cinema curator at Bristol’s Watershed; Jason Wood, artistic director at Manchester’s HOME, and Ian Wild, chief executive at Sheffield’s Showroom cinemas.
“This non-availability in huge parts of the country is not only frustrating for us as independent cinemas who promote film culture (we gave The Coen Bros, Alfonso Cuaron, Paul Greengrass and David Mackenzie their cinema breaks) but also frustrating and deeply confusing for audiences across the country,” read the letter.
The signatories suggested media coverage of the Curzon deal – including in Screen International – had added to the confusion for audiences, who do not understand why their local independent cinemas do not then programme the films.
“Recent reports in The Guardian and Screen would suggest that Netflix films will be available in cinemas across the UK through a theatrical release with Curzon. We are writing to point out that this is not the case,” the letter said.
All theatrical releases by the streaming giant are perceived as being primarily for awards-qualifying purposes.
Under an informal, exclusive deal, Curzon Cinemas will kick off a limited release of Outlaw King – about medieval Scottish rebel leader Robert the Bruce – in 10 Curzon venues as well as two independent theatres in Glasgow and Edinburgh this Friday (Nov 9).
Curzon is also handling the limited UK release of Netflix-backed features, Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA, the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs and Orson Welles’ The Other Side Of The Wind.
It has previously theatrically released Netflix titles 22 July, Mudbound, Okja, The Meyerowitz Stories and Beasts Of No Nation in the UK.
All of the Netflix titles released in UK cinemas to date have simultaneously streamed on the platform with no exclusive theatrical window, as is the case with Outlaw King. An exclusive theatrical window of between three to six weeks is being introduced by Netlfix in the UK for awards hopefuls ROMA and The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs.
The indie exhibitors believe features by these directors would otherwise have traditionally shown in theatres on the UK and Ireland’s indie theatrical circuit, which now feel they are cut out of the picture.
No theatrical screenings have been announced in Ireland at all.
Curzon Cinemas says it is acting as an exhibitor under the deal and is not handling bookings for the titles, which are controlled by Netflix.
Cosgrove told Screen when he contacted Netflix directly to ask whether it would be possible to screen its titles theatrically in his venue, he was told the films were “not available”. Netflix have yet to reply to Screen’s request for comment.
Release windows not the issue for UK indies
The signatories of the open letter highlighted traditional release windows are not an issue for many of the theatres on the UK’s indie cinema circuit.
Nearly all these venues have been working with shorter windows and simultaneous releases for years, unlike the mainstream exhibition chains which still demand a 16-week gap between a film’s theatrical release and its digital distribution, although this is not enshrined in law in the UK.
Speaking to Screen, Watershed’s Cosgrove noted the venue had worked with Amazon and Curzon’s distribution arm on a number of occasions in the past on day-and-date screenings as well as releases with small theatrical windows.
The signatories also noted their activities play both a key promotional and economic role for independent feature film. “Our cinemas regularly come out very highly – if not top – in box-office gross and admissions for independent and arthouse titles. By having such significant audience numbers can only add to Netflix in raising awareness and audiences for their online business model as we regularly do with other online providers – Curzon included!,” they said in the letter.
Ben Luxford, head of UK Audiences at the British Film Institute (BFI), said he both respected the Netflix model and sympathised with the indie cinema signatories of the letter, a number of which are involved in the BFI Film Audience Network which is aimed at building an inclusive film exhibition sector across the UK.
“It’s amazing that films from all these incredible directors like Alfonso Cuaron and the Coen Brothers are available to nine million-plus homes around the country on Netflix. The accessibility that audiences have to extraordinary filmmakers is so much greater than they’ve had before. I am very excited about that and the industry is recalibrating to that.
”But equally these films and filmmakers have a value because of the work that independent cinemas such Watershed and HOME have done in championing them, so understandably they want to be able to access their films for their audiences,” he continued. ”There is nothing to stop a discussion around collaboration and it would be interesting for them to have an opportunity to put forward their case as to what that looks like.”
The full letter and list of signatories:
“Recent reports in The Guardian and Screen would suggest that Netflix films will be available in cinemas across the UK through a theatrical release with Curzon. We are writing to point out that this is not the case.
We as independent cinemas are not able to book and screen Netflix films because the deal is, in fact, exclusive to Curzon. The exception of Outlaw King being on in Glasgow Film Theatre and Filmhouse we can only assume is because there is no Curzon in Scotland – certainly, other indie cinemas in that part of the UK are not able to book the film.
This non-availability in huge parts of the country is not only frustrating for us as independent cinemas who promote film culture (we gave The Coen Bros, Alfonso Cuaron, Paul Greengrass and David Mackenzie their cinema breaks) but also frustrating and deeply confusing for audiences across the country. The signatories to this letter all perform important cultural functions as illustrated previously but we also perform an important economic one too. Our cinemas regularly come out very highly – if not top – in box office gross and admissions for independent and arthouse titles. By having such significant audience numbers can only add to Netflix in raising awareness and audiences for their online business model as we regularly do with other online providers – Curzon included!
We appreciate that Netflix may prefer not to fully engage in traditional theatrical distribution in the UK with the restrictions that the windows create and stick with this business plan of exclusivity with Curzon but we would encourage Netflix to work with a wider range of cinemas across the country to get these films – and indeed their brand – out to bigger cinephile audiences nationwide. This would ensure that cinema audiences across the country are given the chance to see Netflix’s brilliant slate of films on the big screen.”
Joan Parsons, QFT, Belfast
Mark Cosgrove, Watershed, Bristol
Chris O’Neil, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork
Alice Black, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee
David O’Mahony, Irish Film Institute, Dublin
Paul Taylor, Eden Court, Inverness
Jake Harvey, Phoenix Leicester
Carmen Slijpen, Depot Cinema, Lewes
Olly Meeks, Rio Cinema, London
Jason Wood, HOME Manchester
Andrew Simpson, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle
Caroline Hennigan, Broadway Cinema, Nottingham
Ian Wild Showroom Cinema, Sheffield
Kevin Markwick, The Picture House Uckfield
Adam J Marsh, Quad Cinema, Derby