The new Martin Scorsese gangster film The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, is out this week but has been boycotted by almost every cinema operator in Australia over a feud with streaming services.
The film tells the story of a truck driver who rises through the ranks of a US crime family and goes to work for the real-life union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who vanished in 1975 and was never found.
It was a special project for Scorsese — best known for his mobster films like Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed — but languished without financing for seven years until Netflix stepped in.
“Netflix came in and said they’d do it with complete financing and also give complete creative freedom,” Scorsese told the ABC.
“And the trade-off is it’s mainly streamed, but it also plays in theatres.”
The final deal meant The Irishman would be released to cinemas on November 7 but then become available to Netflix’s 11 million Australian subscribers four weeks later.
This breaks from the traditional 90-day window between a film going to cinemas and then being available for at-home entertainment.
The move has angered many cinema operators, who consider the 90-day window sacrosanct, with the major Australian chains choosing not to run the film at all.
“Some will see it in a theatre, and when it gets streamed it’ll still be playing in theatres,” Scorsese said.
“So those wonderful people will see it in theatres. But it’s just a fact of life, if you want it this way this is how it’s going to be shown.”
The Irishman is the first of many upcoming films that will defy the once-sacred 90-day theatrical window, with Netflix productions of The King and The Two Popes also having limited exclusive cinema runs.
Amazon is doing the same with its original films Brittany Runs A Marathon and The Report.
And with Stan, Foxtel, Disney+ and Apple TV+ either already in Australia or launching soon, it’s an issue the theatre industry will have to reckon with.
It’s already a trend that has alarmed the National Association of Cinema Operators — Australasia, which represents the major cinema chains and some independent operators.
Chairman David Seargeant told Inside Film magazine he wouldn’t countenance changing the approach to the 90-day window.
“NACO is committed to the theatrical window,” he said.
“We are very concerned that several exhibitors, who are not our members, are taking a short-term view and showing films without an appropriate theatrical season.”
Among those very few cinema operators who will run The Irishman is Eddie Tamir, who owns a handful of cinemas, including one in Melbourne that is billing its screening as an “exclusive”.
“We want to offer our customers the best films possible, basically,” he told the ABC.
“It’s still a free country and everyone is free to do their thing.
“The 90-day window is compelling, and we have a major investment in our cinemas, in our businesses and our freeholds. But we also want to be part of the conversation.”
Mr Tamir said Scorsese took a chance by inking a deal with Netflix, and he was taking a similar chance by running the film.
“In terms of any backlash, well, we’ve been around for a while, and we’re just focused on trying to make our cinema offer the best that it can be.”
As for what the rise in streaming services could mean for cinemas in the long-term, Mr Tamir was optimistic.
“Since TV, people have been saying that cinema has been dying, which has been about 70 years. And we hope that cinema keeps dying for the next 70 years,” he said.
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