Netflix is refusing to remove from its hit movie Bird Box footage of the rail explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Que., despite an appeal from the town’s mayor.
In Bird Box, the footage is used during a news segment on a television, reporting on thousands of deaths by mass suicide around the world. Disaster scenes flash across the screen, including the explosive fires of Lac-Mégantic.
The brief images were taken from real-life footage of one of the deadliest disasters in recent Canadian history, when a train carrying crude oil derailed, exploded and killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic in 2013.
The streaming company has said it will ensure no future productions on its platform use images of the disaster for entertainment, according to Lac-Mégantic Mayor Julie Morin, who spoke to a Netflix representative Thursday.
Meanwhile, the head of the company that sold the images of the Lac-Mégantic disaster to the producers of Bird Box said he is “devastated” by the way the footage was used.
“We didn’t do all we could on our end to make sure that people understood the sensitive nature of the content, because what happened is not appropriate,” Jason Teichman, the CEO of New York City-based Pond5, said in an interview Thursday.
Morin said in a statement she is satisfied Netflix has “committed to reflect with their partners on the use of images so that this situation is not repeated.” She said she “sensed a sensitivity to the recovery of our citizens.”
Town spokeswoman Karine Dube said the Netflix representative called the mayor unsolicited Thursday morning and told her the company would not be removing the images from Bird Box.
At least two dramas currently on Netflix’s Canadian platform, including Bird Box, briefly use actual footage of the 2013 derailment.
Morin told The Canadian Press Tuesday that she wanted the company to review its catalogue and remove the images. She said use of the videos showed a lack of respect and had upset residents, many of whom are suffering post-traumatic stress.
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Pond5 sold footage of the burning town to Bird Box and another Netflix production, Travelers.
Teichman said his company doesn’t hold the rights to the 14 million video clips in its global content catalogue, which is accessible through its website. Rather, he said, Pond5 licenses footage from people such as historians, filmmakers and journalists and splits the revenue 50-50 when the images are sold.
He wouldn’t say who shot the Lac-Mégantic video, citing privacy concerns. He said his company has contacted customers who purchased any related clips of Lac-Mégantic.
They held “very clear conversations so that there was zero ambiguity regarding the sensitive nature of the content so that there can be no room for misunderstanding,” he said.
But he recognized that his company doesn’t control the artistic direction of the people who purchase his content.
“We’re going to make the efforts to do what we can on our end, to ensure (the footage) is being used as appropriately as possible.”
Netflix spokespeople have declined repeated requests for comment on the controversy.