By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood November 4, 2013 at 11:24AM
As Netflix acquires Jehane Noujaim’s lauded documentary “The Square,” on the Egyptian protest movement, to premiere exclusively on the streaming site in early 2014, the company's Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos has backed off his earlier day-and-date stance. This is Netflix's first doc acquisition in several years, potentially pitching the company into the Oscar race, as "The Square" is a contender for a nomination in the documentary category. So far the filmmakers have self-released the doc in theaters, where it opened in New York October 25 and in Los Angeles November 1. Watch the trailer below.
Netflix is not only creating original content for its subscribers ("House of Cards," "Orange is the New Black") but is also acquiring feature films like "The Square." Netflix's Sarandos finds himself on the firing line in the ongoing struggle between theater owners and studios over when a movie should be made available on multiple platforms including Netflix streaming. During his October 26 Film Independent Forum keynote, Sarandos asked why Netflix movies couldn't be released day and date with theater openings. “Why not premiere movies on Netflix the same day they’re opening in theaters?" he asked. "And not little movies. There’s a lot of people and a lot of ways to do that. But why not big movies?”
He added: “The reason why we may enter this space and try to release some big movies ourselves this way, is because I’m concerned that as theater owners try to strangle innovation and distribution, not only are they going to kill theaters–they might kill movies.”
Following a predictably heated conversation with National Association of Theater Owners president John Fithian, who was not happy with his remarks, Sarandos is backing off. “Subscription movie services and cheap rentals killed the DVD business, and now Sarandos wants to kill the cinema as well,” Fithian told Deadline. “The only business that would be helped by day-and-day release to Netflix is Netflix. If Hollywood did what Sarandos suggests, there wouldn’t be many movies left for Netflix’s customers or for anyone else."
In a Q&A on Monday at a Bloomberg event in Los Angeles he said that he wasn't espousing "day and date with Netflix" but rather moving windows up to give customers what they want. Fithian and his constituents won't be happy with that either.
Winner of this year’s TIFF Documentary People’s Choice Award,
“The Square” tells the behind-the-headlines story of the Egyptian Revolution
through the eyes of young activists who have sought for the last two years to
build a better Egypt.
Here’s an official synopsis:
The film captures the immediacy and intensity of the protests in Tahrir Square from the 2011 overthrow of military leader Hosni Mubarak through the ousting of Mohammed Morsi in 2013, providing a kaleidoscopic, visceral portrait of the events as they unfold before Magdy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khalid Abdalla, an Egyptian actor who played the lead in “The Kite Runner” and the charismatic Ahmed, whose poetic storytelling carries the narrative. Armed with nothing more than cameras, social media, deep consciousness, and a resolute commitment to change, these young revolutionaries give us a front-line perspective of the ongoing struggle fought with new weapons.
An earlier version of “The Square” won the Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Our TOH! coverage of Noujaim’s editing process for the film’s new ending is here.