Alfonso Cuarón's Netflix film Roma is currently being showered with critics' accolades and huge amounts of tantalising awards season buzz. I and my colleagues here at Watershed are being asked on a regular basis "are you going to show Roma?" The short answer is "we would like to but………!" What follows is a bit more explanation of the "but…."
Normal practice in film distribution is that the distributor makes their films available to cinemas to book. Some films like the forthcoming Mary Poppins are released on a huge number of screens whilst a film like Three Identical Strangers are released on smaller amounts. A distributor releases any film on the basis of predicted demand but importantly, in both cases the films are available for any cinema to book.
This unfortunately is currently not the case with Netflix films. They are not a distributor and seem to have done a restricted deal with Curzon Cinemas which gets their films into their cinemas.
Curzon have 13 cinemas across England with the majority in London and this is where Netflix films have been shown up until Outlaw King. Outlaw King was also shown at Glasgow Film Theatre and Filmhouse in Edinburgh. This is also the case with Roma with HOME in Manchester being added.
I have no idea what the rationale for these are except I do hope it shows a willingness on behalf of Netflix to engage more widely with cinemas. We are trying to talk to Netflix about a date for Roma but at this moment in time I like many other cinemas across the UK are unable simply to book and screen it - unlike Mary Poppins (which I chose not to screen) and Three Identical Strangers (which I chose to show).
I am sure you find this situation frustrating. As someone who cares passionately about the cinematic experience trust me I share that frustration. And it is doubly so given the awards that Roma is accumulating and critics saying "it demands to be seen in the cinema." If anything changes in our negotiations you will be the first to know!
For more context on this issue: In the past few weeks I've been one of the signatories on an open letter urging Netflix to expand their theatrical release strategy. It's frustrating for venues like us who champion the screening of films in the cinema - and confusing for our audiences.
Also, I also wrote this article on film culture in the era of Netflix asking if we were in danger of missing opportunities to promote, profile and discover the next generation of great films and filmmakers in cinemas.