Cannes Film Fest 2017: Star and Jury Member Will Smith Defends Netflix

Will Smith, member of the 2017 Cannes Film Fest jury, dominated the press conference today, the first day of the event, which celebrates its 70th anniversary.

Some of his fellow jurors–like US actress Jessica Chastain or Italian director Paolo Sorrentino–hardly had chance to speak.

Even the Cannes jury president, the usually energetic Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, seemed to be listening to Will Smith, admitting that he’d always wanted to work with the movie star.

“When I first got the call, I was really excited,” Smith said, recounting the back-and-forth between him and his publicist with dramatic flair. “I was probably 14 years old the last time I I watched three movies in one day. Three movies a day is a lot!”

He emphasized the challenges that might arise for all those 8:30 a.m. screenings. “I’m going to be in bed every night, and I’m taking it very seriously,” Smith said. “I will be watching wide-awake, focused to do my best.”

He made jokes about his upbringing: “West Philadelphia is a long way from Cannes,” he said.

When a reporter noted that ex-juror Kirsten Dunst donned 28 outfits on last year’s red carpets, Smith noted, “I’ll be going for 32,” he joked, admitting the warm weather threw a wrench in his plans. “I wanted to be South of France Cannes sexy, but all that went out the window.”

Almodovar, reading from a lengthy pre-written statement in Spanish, spoke about the tensions in the film industry caused by new players like Netflix that don’t always premiere movies in theaters.

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.

Almodovar said: “I personally do not conceive, not only the Palme d’Or, any other prize being given to a film and not being able to see this film on a big screen.  All this doesn’t mean I’m not open or don’t celebrate the new technologies. I do.”

“I’ll be fighting for one thing that I’m afraid the new generation is not aware of,” he added. “It’s the capacity of the hypnosis of the large screen for the viewer.”

He said he wanted everybody to witness a movie for the first time in a theater. “The size of the screen should not be smaller than the chair on which you’re sitting. It should not be part of your everyday setting. You must feel small and humble in front of the image that’s here.”

But Will Smith offered a different perspective, strongly defending Netflix, especially when it comes to the viewing habits of his three kids. “They go to the movies twice a week and they watch Netflix,” Smith said. “There’s very little cross between going to the cinema and watching what they watch on Netflix in my home.”

He elaborated: “In my house, Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit. My children get to see films they absolutely wouldn’t have seen.  Netflix brings a great connectivity. There are movies that are not on a screen within 8,000 miles of them.  They get to find those artists.”