Will Smith hails 'benefit' of Netflix amid criticism of Palme d'Or nominations

Will Smith has defended Netflix’s place at Cannes Film Festival during the first day of the prestigious event.

In what has been considered a watershed moment for the streaming service, it has two films competing for the Palme d’Or at the 70th edition of the festival.

Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories are up for the prize, but critics have hit out at their inclusion and a new rule has been introduced for next year requiring films to have had theatrical distribution in French cinemas.

Jury members Jessica Chastain, from left, Will Smith and jury President Pedro Almodovar
Jury members Jessica Chastain, from left, Will Smith and jury president Pedro Almodovar (Thibault Camus/AP)

Pedro Almodovar, who is presiding over this year’s competition jury, read a lengthy statement on Wednesday in which he 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.

“The size of the screen should not be smaller than the chair you’re sitting in. It should not be part of your everyday setting,” said the Spanish filmmaker. “You must be small and humble in front of the image that’s here.”

But Will, who is making his first appearance on the jury and will star in a Netflix film later this year, disagreed.

He said: “I have a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old at home. They go to the movies twice a week, and they watch Netflix. There’s very little cross between going to the cinema and watching what they watch on Netflix.

“In my home, Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit. (They) watch films they otherwise wouldn’t have seen. It has broadened my children’s global cinematic comprehension.”

Pedro Almodovar
Pedro Almodovar (Thibault Camus/AP)

The jury will pick the Palme d’Or winner out of the 19 films in competition next weekend.

The star-studded festival will see Hollywood heavyweights flock to the French Riviera for a series of red carpet premieres.

Also included in the event’s billing is the release of the first footage from a new documentary that will follow Chelsea Manning as she walks free from a maximum security military prison.

Jury member Will Smith
Jury member Will Smith (Thibault Camus/AP)

XY Chelsea will follow the former US army intelligence analyst, previously known as Private Bradley Manning, as she begins her life in the outside world as a trans woman.

Nicole Kidman has four projects on the bill, including the latest film by Lost In Translation director Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled, which also stars Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Colin Farrell.

She also stars in the second series of Top Of The Lake, which will be screened in full at the festival.

The festival runs from May 17 to 28 and opened with Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghosts.

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