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Alejandro González Iñárritu criticises ‘the dictatorship of the algorithm’ on streaming platforms

Tom Butler
Senior Editor
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu makes a speech after receiving "Honorary Heart of Sarajevo" award during the 25th Sarajevo Film Festival, 2019. (Samir Yordamovic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind The Revenant and Birdman, has blasted streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime for the way they surface content for their users.

Talking at a masterclass at Sarajevo Film Festival on Sunday, August 18, the Mexican filmmaker (as reported by Screen International) bemoaned “the dictatorship of the algorithm” during the live event.

Streaming services often rely on algorithms to present new shows or films to their users, which some people suggest makes it difficult to find content.

When quizzed on his comments, the five-time Oscar-winner expanded on his thoughts telling Screen that he thought that Netflix hindered the chances of success for its original films by failing to give them wide theatrical releases.

“Netflix should understand some of their films should be released in cinemas,” he said. “That would be a benefit for the film and for them. They would not lose people who watch TV. If you see a great film in the cinema and then two or three weeks later you see it on TV, you watch it again.”

As one-third of the “Three amigos of Hollywood” alongside Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo Del Toro, Iñárritu remains the only one of the trio of highly-lauded filmmakers yet to make a deal with a streaming service.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, honoree Guillermo del Toro and director Alfonso Cuaron attend 2018 LACMA Art + Film Gala. (Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for LACMA)

Alfonso Cuaron’s last film Roma was picked up as a Netflix Original after the Gravity filmmaker wrapped up work on his most personal film to date. The black and white, semi-autobiographical film won three Academy Awards and four BAFTAs earlier this year, while only receiving a limited theatrical release.

Read more: Del Toro’s next film will be R-rated

Roma’s awards-season success prompted debate in Hollywood and in the U.K. with some industry professionals questioning whether streaming-only films should be eligible for awards.

After deliberation and a challenge from Steven Spielberg, the American Academy ruled that streaming platforms’ films will continue to be eligible for Oscars, so long as they are also released in cinemas for a minimum of seven days.

Alfonso Cuaron with his Best Film and Best Director at the 72nd British Academy Film Awards, 2019. (Ian West/PA via AP)

In the U.K., cinema chain Cineworld withdrew its support of the BAFTAs citing ‘concerns regarding the eligibility requirements of the Film Awards’.

Guillermo Del Toro, who won Best Picture and Best Director for The Shape of Water at the 2018 Academy Awards, has produced two animated series for Netflix: Trollhunters and 3Below.

Pinocchio, currently in development, will also be a Netflix Original. The Pan’s Labyrinth creator will write, direct, and produce the 1930s-set fairytale as a stop motion musical for the streaming platform. A release date remains TBC.

Read more: Gravity’s alternative ending revealed

He’s also working on Guillermo del Toro Presents 10 After Midnight, an original horror anthology series for Netflix.

Updating on his future projects Iñárritu - whose last film The Revenant was released in 2015 - revealed he’s been “working on a couple of projects for the last three or four years”, and plans to shoot one of them next summer.

Leonardo DiCaprio, winner of Best Actor for 'The Revenant,' and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, winner of Best Director for 'The Revenant,' at the 88th Academy Awards, 2016 (Photo By Sthanlee B. Mirador)

He also warned that the global demand for content through the rapid expansion of streaming services, could be the nail in the coffin for cinema.

“There’s an impatience now to be entertained – to be fed with plot in a fast way,” he said. “Everything has to be clear, understandable, global, like a Coca-Cola commercial. It has to please everybody because it’s a world product, and you cannot deal with that f***ing thing.”

“The possibilities to experiment and explore are gone because TV demands guaranteed globality that everybody understands.”

“That is changing the stamina and motivations of young writers and filmmakers. Cinema – the inspiration, that’s a jewel – it’s probably going to disappear.”

Iñárritu was awarded the honorary Heart of Sarajevo award at the Sarajevo Film Festival opening ceremony alongside filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski.