Will Smith, Almodovar open a testy Cannes Film Festival

An Seo Hyun Okja

An Seo Hyun Okja

French distributors have protested that two of this year's in-competition titles, Netflix's "Okja" and "The Meyerowitz Stories", didn't until recently have a theatrical release in France. The Golden Camera Award will be given to a first film appearing in any section of the festival by a jury presided over by French actress Sandrine Kiberlain, while Romanian director Cristian Mungiu will head a jury that will provide an award to the short and student films in the Cinefondation section.

Scores of films are submitted to Cannes each year and only a handful of them get selected for screening at the coveted film festival.

But Smith was among those not clapping and he disagreed with the Spanish director, revealing his kids are huge Netflix fans. They go to the movies twice a week, and they watch Netflix.

Netflix has been waging war at Cannes, the world's most prestigious film festival, and now Will Smith has come to the streaming giant's defense. Amazon brings Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck to the festival this year, and last year had The Neon Demon by Nicolas Winding Refn and Paterson by Jim Jarmusch in competition.

The website - which has 100 million subscribers - hit back by saying the industry must embrace change, with CEO Reed Hastings blaming the French cinema establishment for "closing ranks" against it.

Regarding Cannes' new rule, effective in 2018, demanding that all films in competition secure theatrical distribution in France, Sarandos expressed his faith that the festival would change.

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The festival runs from May 17 to 28 and opened with Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael's Ghosts. On Wednesday, director Pedro Almodóvar, who's presiding over this year's competition jury, made a controversial statement regarding the inclusion of Netflix films in the festival.

While big Hollywood fare is thin on the ground at this year's festival, eagerly-awaited new offerings by some of the world's most acclaimed and original directors are set to screen.

At the jury press conference earlier on Wednesday, jury president Almodovar said that "it would be a huge paradox that the Palme d'Or or another award-winning film could not be seen in theaters".

Film critics questioned the future for Netflix and other streaming services, wondering whether or not directors would continue to work with them if it meant not competing at Cannes.

"In my house, Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit", Smith said of his children's viewing habits. It has offered theaters the opportunity of a day-and-date release (opening a movie in theaters simultaneously as it debuts on the service), something large exhibitors have thus far rejected. "There's very little cross between going to the cinema and watching what they watch on Netflix", Smith said. Festival programmers thought "they could get away with showing Netflix movies", he said.

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