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There's going to be an interesting struggle heading into the upcoming awards season that will cause shifts into how prestigious films are viewed, and marketed. By this, I mean that Netflix is revealing itself to be a major player in the developing awards race -- both for Oscars, and for the smaller (but still valuable) trophies at the Golden Globes or the Critics' Choice Awards. But the hook of Netflix has always been, "Avoid the theaters and see these movies in the comfort of your own home, whenever you want."
This strategy might be fine for a drama like The Kindergarten Teacher, where the subtlety of Maggie Gyllenhaal's creepy performance won't be lost on your television, or for a riveting thriller like Paul Greengrass' 22 July (available on the streaming service right now). But some Oscar contenders backed by Netflix absolutely need to be experienced on the big screen, and Roma is one of those features.
I know this because I traveled to the inaugural 919 Film Festival in Chapel Hill, North Carolina specifically to experience Alfonso Cuaron's new story on the big screen (just in case a local screening isn't made available before the movie hits theaters). Intimate, emotional and extremely powerful, Roma is a masterful application of craft and composition in favor of a wholly unique story that's born from Curaron's own childhood. It's shot in gloriously beautiful black-and-white. And it manipulates sound in ways that are very important to the story (the sound of water bookends the movie in two breathtaking sequences that will blow your mind when they connect).
This might be lost on a viewer trying to watch Roma at home on Netflix. For better or for worse, a Netflix experience allows you to be distracted. You can pause the movie. You can check your phone. You can get up off the sofa to use the bathroom, or get a snack. These are things people do in a theater, mind you (as much as nearby patrons despise them for it), but a theatrical experience usually provides a commitment to the artist's vision, and Netflix, in the home, can't make that guarantee.
At the same time, Alfonso Cuaron will probably be the first person to tell you that his experimental and deeply personal Roma might not exist without the support -- creatively and financially -- of Netflix. The streaming giant agreed to distribute the film, and even gave it a fancy new Netflix logo that suggests prestige and acknowledges the company's awards aspirations.
But Roma also has been making the film-festival rounds, showing itself on big screens in Venice, Toronto and Chapel Hill at the 919 Fil Festival, where it served as the Opening Night film (with co-stars Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira in attendance). It's about to open the Savannah Film Festival in Georgia, where audiences again will be able to see the movie on the big screen -- as it should be viewed, in my expert opinion.
Variety reported back in August that Netflix plans to release Roma in theaters, but a scan for that theatrical rollout produced no results. Hopefully we will learn more details as December approaches, as Netflix has a streaming date of December 14 for the movie. If that's the only way that you can see Roma, then by all means, program it into your Netflix.
But my trip to the 919 Film Festival in Chapel Hill confirmed what I initially believed. Roma deserves a big-screen watch, so if it's screening anywhere near you, go out of your way to experience it that way.