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MATTHEW LIEDKE ON FILM: The Netflix model is flawed, but necessary

Even though my prediction for "Roma" to win the Academy Award for Best Picture wasn't right, the film from Netflix still had a golden night, taking home prizes including Best Director.

Not everyone was happy about the foreign language film having so much success on Oscar night, though. Most notably, Steven Spielberg, the Academy's Director Branch governor, had called the eligibility of Netflix films into question. Because Netflix is primarily a streaming service, Spielberg thinks their films should be more compatible for the Emmys, rather than the Oscars.

Mostly, Spielberg and others who've stated concerns over Netflix's model have said movies from the studio usually have limited, if any, theatrical release.

The line between movies made for TV and those produced by streaming services has blurred somewhat over the years, this is true. However, I think some in the industry are being a bit too hard on Netflix.

There's still a great deal of difference in production and budget when it comes to features made for TV vs. those created more traditionally. Plus, story structure and pacing in made-for-TV films are often much more designed to accommodate television stations, rather than the movie theater.

Netflix features, and others produced via primarily online streaming services such as Amazon, usually tend to stray from television filmmaking styles. Instead, they're often crafted by the cast and crew in a much more traditional sense.

"Roma" is one example, "Mudbound" from 2017 is another. Both are clearly produced as typical features. The only difference is they were available via the internet, and not just at the cinema.

I get where some in the industry are coming from. Theater attendance has been somewhat of a rollercoaster lately, and many of these movies look better on the big screen. Requiring these films to have a theatrical release for a certain amount of time isn't out of the bounds of reason.

What some misunderstand, though, is the importance of access. The ability to view many Oscar nominated films, and other independent pictures that miss out on a nomination, can be somewhat limited.

As someone who's lived in more rural areas, I know first hand how difficult it can be to catch a movie when it's only playing in a major metropolitan area. Making movies more accessible to more audiences is a good thing, and can help build passion for films people wouldn't have been able to see before.

Netflix, and others like it, are here to stay, and the Academy should embrace it. Theatrical releases are still important, but allowing audiences who live hours away from larger cities to enjoy Oscar contenders at home isn't a negative. The two can, and should coexist. 

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Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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