Covid-19 curfew threatens to bring down the last curtain on French cinemas

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Despite a call from the film industry to ease the curfew under certain specific conditions, cinemas in the Paris region and eight other cities must close their doors at 21 at night from Saturday along with theaters and restaurants. Industry officials warn that the new regulation threatens the survival of many of these companies.

After being forced to close their businesses during the shutdown, theater and cinema operators in the Île-de-France region and eight major cities now have to deal with the introduction on Saturday of a curfew from 1 p.m.

This latest limitation comes just as people have begun to regain confidence to go out again, and cinemas and theaters have begun to fill up. How will French culture survive under the curfew?

French President Macron’s announcement of a curfew last night caused great concern for film professionals and understandably: Evening screenings starting after 1 p.m. 19, has been the key to keeping the industry alive, representing 40.5 percent of the total number of cinema admissions in France, according to a 2019 survey by the Center National du Cinèma (CNC).

Despite a call from industry to reconsider how the curfew could be applied to cinemas and theaters, the government announced on Friday that no exceptions would be made to allow screenings or performances that ended after 1 p.m.

“Our goal is clear: we have to fight the virus. For the sake of consistency, there will be no exceptions other than those already mentioned, although we are aware that this will cause particular difficulties for the cultural sector and for all of them. “We are not giving up any sector, we are distributing specific assistance,” Prime Minister Jean Castex’s office told FRANCE 24.

In a post on Facebook, the French Society of Film Directors (SFR) angrily condemned Castex ‘refusal to consider facilitating evening screenings in cinemas, arguing that culture is not a luxury but a necessity. SFR said industry survival was at stake.

‘Autumn is a crucial time for the arthouse cinema’

In an attempt to limit losses, some chains, such as the Parisian network MK2, have decided to open their cinemas from 1 p.m. 8 in the morning. Others will offer screenings earlier this weekend.

But will that be enough?

“We hope to stay afloat with especially the help we receive from CNC,” said William Benedetto, director of the arthouse cinema Alhambra in Marseille.

“We have had to rework our schedules. Screenings that were supposed to start at 8pm have now been moved to Saturday and Sunday mornings at 11.30am. But this obviously does not solve our problems and a curfew in October really does not help us. “Autumn is a crucial period for cinema cinema. Highly anticipated and award-winning films are usually released at this time, which is important to lift our annual attendance. But this year, nothing is certain,” Benedetto said.

The same anxiety can be felt in Paris. Since the curfew was announced, “I’m spending my days glued to the phone,” said Émilie Nouveau, a programmer at Studio des Ursulines, an independent cinema for young audiences in the 5th arrondissement, FRANCE 24.

“I have to keep checking with distributors that they will still release their films in cinemas, I am constantly contacting festivals to make sure they are still happening … It is an endless circle of concern, especially for small teams “Since the end of the lockdown, it feels like we’ve sewn and sewn our program again. And then you finally have to tear out all the seams,” she said unhappily.

>> Snapshot before the light goes out: France at the end of Covid-19 curfew

‘Terrible inequality’

If everyone is to be home at 21 and with films lasting on average more than two hours, it is not possible to start a film later than kl. 18 to give people enough time to come home, according to the Fédération nationale des cinémas (FNCF).

The union suggested that the government allow cinemas to return home shortly after the exit connection if they could produce their ticket stubs as proof.

Even this plan would not be late enough for many French cinema fans, admits the FNCF, as most of them only finish work before around 1 p.m. 19, which means that they will still not be able to get to the cinema on time, even if there was a special dispensation.

“There is terrible inequality in this situation: you can come back by train or walk your dog after 9pm, but you can not leave a cinema,” said Erwan Escoubet, director of regulatory affairs at FNCF. “Yes, okay, the purpose of this curfew is to avoid transmitting the virus, but there has never been a cluster linked to a cinema,” he told FRANCE 24

‘A film that does not come out in Paris does not exist’

The repercussions for the film industry could be dramatic: The still limited number of screenings will lead to a decline in cinema participation. This may deter large distributors from planning their films in the near future. No new releases mean even empty cinemas. The only winners could end up being streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

An example is the new South Korean zombie horror film by Yeon Sang-ho, “Peninsula”. It was originally scheduled for release on October 21, but is already postponed to December 16. “People want to see a movie for kids in the afternoon with no problems, but who is going to watch a zombie movie at 8 in the morning?” asked French filmmaker Michèle Halberstadt in the weekly cultural magazine Télérama.

The absence of new films may eventually lead to the closure of cinemas, even in areas of the country that do not have to comply with the curfew.

“The consequences of this curfew are more relevant for cinema than for theater, because a film not released in Paris does not exist in France. If films can no longer be shown in major cities, most of the French films waited anxiously in the autumn, as Albert Dupontel’s ‘Adieu les cons’, Valérie Lemercier’s ‘Aline’ or Maïwenen’s ‘ADN’, will be removed from the schedules of all cinemas across France, “Escoubet said.” Right now we simply do not see a way out of this . ”

This article is translated from the original in French.

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