With director Alfonso Cuaron’s sweeping epic Roma floating on a cloud of positive buzz, the Netflix film seems destined to be a major awards contender.
But unlike other Best Picture Oscar bets A Star Is Born, Black Panther and Widows, it’s angling to get there without playing theatres across the country.
Despite a critically acclaimed premiere at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, Netflix is only screening the Spanish-language film by the Oscar-winning director of Gravity at a small number of theatres in Canada.
Only Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are scheduled to play Roma at this point, with the possibility of other cities showing the film if it’s a hit.
And just one theatre is actually screening it before the streamer does: Toronto’s downtown art-house TIFF Bell Lightbox premieres Roma on Thursday. Montreal and Vancouver theatres don’t get it until Dec. 14, the same day Roma makes its global debut on Netflix.
The strategy reflects big screen Oscar ambitions that don’t actually include a strong commitment to movie theatres.
“For Netflix it all comes back to the monthly subscription,” says Katie Bailey, content director at film industry trade publication Playback.
Netflix acquired the rights for Cuaron’s semi-autobiographical tribute to his native Mexico with the purpose of putting it on the small screen.
Reed Hastings, the company’s chief executive, has long accused movie exhibitors of being unable to think outside the multiplex boxes. He’s called for Hollywood to release more films for home viewing the same day they open in theatres.
That position has put Netflix in a tough spot as exhibitors distance themselves and some within the film industry see the company as a competitive threat.
Netflix has managed to pick up Oscars for both documentary feature and short in recent years, but has failed to score gold in the major awards categories.