June 15, 2021

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Reopening of cinemas: the inexorable bottleneck at film releases

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It is difficult to align the interests of film distributors, when a Disney does not have much in common with a distributor who has to release a quality Iranian film … While the industry fears a monster bottling of films when cinemas reopen May 19 – twice as many films as usual when there were already too many, a consultation began under the aegis of the CNC (National Center for Cinema and Animated Image), to allow distributors to agree on a release schedule.

But for the time being, the distributors of French films with commercial potential and the American studios, which arbitrate from Los Angeles, have made it clear that they would decide for themselves the release date of their films. “There was probably no miracle to expect, but it is a fact that independent distributors will suffer a lot”, concludes Vincent Grimond, CEO of Wild Bunch. Traffic jams are inevitable from the moment when manufactured films must be released as soon as possible under the pressure of their financial package. In addition, the entire cinema chain, and in particular theaters, has months of turnover to catch up and will maximize the potential of great films.

Consultation for small and medium-sized films

Some had high hopes for this negotiation made possible by the Competition Authority, acceding to a request from the cinema mediator Laurence Franceschini. And the dialogue is not broken. The CNC is still hoping for consultation for small and medium-sized films. Discussions are continuing with the Syndicate of Independent Distributors (SDI) and the Reunited European Independent Distributors (DIRE), the CNC is assured. “But we will have to think about a new configuration if the big players are not there”, judge Hugues Quattrone, general delegate of the DIRE.

The big meeting on the subject, on May 5, at the CNC, could not lead to results. The most important organization, the National Federation of Film Publishers (FNEF), bringing together small structures but above all distributors like Gaumont, Pathé, subsidiaries of American studios, played the policy of the empty chair even if some of its members were present.

The CNC considers that it is not its role to force the hand of distributors to come to an agreement. “Each member has the choice to participate or not in the discussions. The release date of a film is a key parameter, and freezing it is a heavy decision for a distributor ”, explains Hélène Herschel, general delegate of the FNEF. The constraints vary. “For lesser-known films, it is necessary to launch communication campaigns perhaps further upstream”, notes Etienne Ollagnier, co-president of SDI.

Exemption to go out elsewhere than in the theaters

There may still be hope for the other films. Until June 19, the CNC exceptionally gave the possibility to producers and distributors to have a first screening of a film on any medium other than the movie theater while retaining the aid received by the CNC. “How I Became a Superhero” and the documentary “In the Bottle” were granted this waiver and three other files are being reviewed. “This is a very good measure from the CNC. The sector, in particular us, the independent distributors, must think about how to better exploit this opportunity ”, Vincent Grimond analysis.

The situation is exceptional, since there was, in mid-March, a stock of 400 films, because of the broadcasts prevented or interrupted by the crisis, according to the CNC. “It is estimated that there will be approximately 15% to 25% more films than a typical year between May and December”, says Hélène Herschel.

About thirty films at the reopening

For May 19, around thirty films are already planned (half of which are already showing before the cinemas close) according to data from the National Federation of French Cinemas (FNCF), such as “Envole-moi “,” The embrace “, or the Caesarized” Adieu les cons “(already released). This is double what we usually see in a typical week (around 14 films).

However, thereafter, until July, when the gauge of cinemas will still be far from 100%, “There are currently between 12 and 16 films each week, which is busy but not exceptional”, puts Marc-Olivier Sebbag, general delegate of the FNCF into perspective. It will be necessary to wait until July 14 to see the first American blockbuster on the screens, “Fast and Furious 9”.

But it is the heart of summer and autumn that worry specialists, even if some believe that this gives a chance to exist for usually empty months. “Not all films have been announced given the Cannes Film Festival and American films will be more numerous in the coming months”, resumes Etienne Ollagnier.

Calling for a continuation of discussions between distributors, the Minister of Culture also stressed that it was necessary to rejoice in this traffic jam, linked to support for cinema. It would be better “Cry with your mouth full”, launched Roselyne Bachelot.

A little less than 100 million additional euros for the cinema sector?

The health crisis has so far not caused more bankruptcies in the cinema industry than in a normal year. But the State, which has alleviated the cash flow urgency, will gradually withdraw its support (specific aid to the sector, to PGEs through partial unemployment) as normal life resumes. The hardest part is therefore yet to come. Theater operators, film distributors and their producers will have to find an economic balance alone and weighted down with the liabilities of a terrible year (70% drop in cinema attendance). To facilitate the recovery, the National Cinema Center (CNC) has requested a little less than 100 million euros in additional aid, according to our information, to support the sector. They would be added to the 126 million earmarked, since March 2020, via the CNC to operators, to 39 million to distributors and 23 million to producers. The Bercy arbitration is expected.

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