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Shortage of local pix hits French

That French cinema attendance fell in 1994 was due more than anything else to a dearth of home-grown Gallic blockbusters.

Only 28% of tickets sold were for French films – the lowest level ever – and many exhibitors here say French moviegoers, especially outside Paris and the larger cities, need “good French movies or they don’t go to the theaters.” Thus 126 million movie tickets were bought in France last year, down from 133 million in 1993.

“We are scared about this evolution because it’s not the first time French movies have become weaker,” says Antoine Mesnier, assistant director of the National Federation of French Cinemas (FNCF).

“It’s not a catastrophe, but we have to watch this evolution.”

Mesnier says that at least the government has stopped blaming poor French film sales on the theaters and accusing exhibitors of favoring American product. The Culture Ministry did away with schemes to tie the country’s automatic financial aid to exhibitors to the nationality of the films on their screens after a study found that, while 28% of tickets bought were for French films, the percentage of French films screened was 32%.

“I wouldn’t say quotas are not useful, but the problem is, if what we produce is not what people want,” says Georges Toulet of French production and exhibition major UGC.

Despite some box office trouble, France now has more theaters than ever before and the country’s biggest exhibitors – Gaumont, UGC and Pathe – all are constructing new multiplexes. Pathe’s opening two years ago of a 12-screen megaplex in Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast, proved for the first time that suburban malls could draw French audiences as much as shopping districts in the center of town. The Toulon theater took in 800,000 tickets last year and expects 900,000 in 1995.

Gaumont opened its first suburban, 12-screen multiplex in March in Calais near the Euro-tunnel, and UGC opened a 14-screener nearby in the university town of Lille.

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