Art and Experience: Audience members hissed and stamped their feet after film starring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal was shown in the wrong aspect ratio
The Cannes film festival was forced to apologise after technical problems and audience unrest marred the first screening of Netflix’s debut competition film at the festival.
The press screening of Okja, which stars Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, had to be stopped after five minutes due to a problem with the film’s aspect ratio. Audience members hissed and stamped their feet in response to the issue, before the screening was temporarily halted. The film later restarted without any further technical problems.
Earlier, some audience members booed the Netflix logo, which appeared onscreen before the film started. The logo also prompted some boos on its appearance at the film’s restart, however there were also cheers and applause in response.
Cannes responded to the incident in a statement, which read: “A technical problem occurred during the press screening of Okja, the film by Bong Joon Ho, this morning at the 8:30 a.m. screening at the Auditorium Lumiere. After an interruption of several minutes, the screening started again and went normal.”
“This incident is completely due to the technical staff of the festival who deeply apologise to the director and his team, to the producers as well as to the audience.”
Netflix has proved a controversial presence at this year’s festival due to the streaming service’s practise of releasing films to its platform without first distributing them in cinemas. Last week Cannes responded to criticism by the French film industry over the decision to include two Netflix films, Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories, in the festival’s official selection by announcing that in future only films with a French theatrical release would be considered for competition.
Speaking at the press conference for Okja, Swinton suggested the controversy had been overplayed. “Let’s be honest, there are thousands of films at Cannes that won’t be screened in a cinema,” she said. “It’s an enormous and really interesting conversation. As in every matter there is room for everyone.”
The film’s director Bong Joon-ho, meanwhile, offered a lighthearted response to the technical problems that marred the press screening. “I’m quite happy about it because you people got to see the opening sequence twice,” he said.
Bong also discussed comments made by Cannes jury president Pedro Almodóvar, who said that he believed that films without theatrical distribution like Okja shouldn’t be considered for the festival’s prestigious Palme D’Or.
“I’m a huge fan of Pedro. So the mere fact that he talks about my film, whether it’s in glowing or negative terms, that’s fine for me.”
Okja stars Korean child actor Ahn Seo-hyun as Mija, a young girl who has to protect her best friend, a giant pig named Okja, from being kidnapped by a multinational corporation. She’s assisted in her efforts by members of the Animal Liberation Front, portrayed in the film as a group of hapless but well-natured eco-warriors.
Asked why he included the Animal Liberation Front in the film when members of their real-life namesake have been convicted of carrying out bombing campaigns, Bong said that he did not “agree with some of their actions but i believe they are people of goodwill. Their intention is that man and animals live in harmony.”
The film’s ecological message was also discussed by Gyllenhaal, who said that its timing was important due to “the political situation in my country”, which he said had “rocked back a few decades”, a reference to the Trump administration’s attempt to remove climate-change regulations.
Gyllenhaal also said that he was “excited about the appointment of Robert Mueller”, the special counsel brought in to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.
Despite the technical issues, early reviews of Okja have been broadly positive, with the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw writing that the film “rattles along with glorious storytelling gusto in the spirit of Roald Dahl” as part of a five-star review.