France on Track For Theaters Reopening With 50% Capacity, Fresh Releases

By Elsa Keslassy

France is getting ready to reopen cinemas on June 22 after a three-month shutdown, with plans in place to cap admissions to 50% of auditorium capacities.

The limitations in France aren’t as strict as in Germany, Norway or the Czech Republic, where theaters reopened with a 50 to 100-person capacity per screen.

Securing a percentage of auditorium capacity rather than a hard, fixed number was a big win for exhibitors as it will allow them to reopen auditoriums of all sizes on day one, explained Jocelyn Bouyssy, who runs CGR Cinemas, the country’s second biggest multiplex chain.

On top of the 50% cap in France, there will need to be an empty seat on each side in between each patron; however, groups that aren’t necessarily people living in the same household will be able to sit together.

The guidelines also recommend that patrons wear a mask during their whereabouts in the cinemas, but not once seated in the auditorium.

France, which has more than 2,000 cinemas, boasts a fairly powerful lobby of exhibitors who obtained from the government a near one-month notice to prepare for the reopening — unlike other countries such as Norway where the biggest movie chains were informed at short notice, and weren’t ready to reopen immediately.

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Local cinema circuits such MK2, a family-owned arthouse theater chain located across Paris, have prepared some special programs to lure back audiences.

MK2’s CEO Nathanael Karmitz told Variety that the cinema chain will be launching a “Black Films Matter” program with screenings of “Free Angela,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s “Kings” and Destin Daniel Cretton’s ”Just Mercy.” The family-owned chain will also be hosting a special screening of “Minions.”

The film offer at launch will comprise some re-releases such as “How To Be a Good Wife,” a comedy with Juliette Binoche, and “De Gaulle,” the biopic of the French General and former president, which were initially released in mid-March when theaters were ordered to close.

Aside from the widely anticipated U.S. blockbusters “Tenet” and “Mulan,” the roster of fresh releases in the next two months will include French comedies including SND’s “The Divorce Club” and Gaumont’s “Tout Simplement Noir,” as well as Apollo Films’ “Bigfoot Family,” a European 3D animated feature by Ben Stassen, and auteur-driven films such as Francois Ozon’s “Summer 85,” Marjane Satrapi’s Marie Curie biopic “Radioactive” and “A Dog’s Courage,” a Korean animated feature by Chun-Baek Lee and Seong-yun Oh.

France traditionally ranks as Europe’s biggest theatrical market in terms of ticket sales and film industry executives. Distributors and exhibitors have been quite optimistic lately about the admissions’ prospects when theaters reopen.

“It’s surely not going to be like a regular summer but we will have more films to show than in other places,” said Karmitz. “We’re lucky in France to have Europe’s biggest nation of moviegoers and to see every year that French movies continue take up roughly 40% of the market share,” added the executive.

France also counts on strong independent distributors such as Pathé, Gaumont and UGC, which are top purveyors of popular French comedies and often deliver some of the year’s highest-grossing French films. Pathé and UGC run the first and third largest theater circuits, respectively.

A study conducted by research firm Mediametrie reveals that 18.7 million French people are looking forward to going to the movie theater by July 22. That figure represents an additional 1.7 million compared to the previous poll conducted by the company a week earlier. Overall, the 18.7 million number represents 45% of moviegoers in France over the last 12 months, according to Mediametrie.

During the first couple weeks of reopening, CGR Cinemas’ Bouyssy will be aiming to jump-start the business with a special offer of €5 admissions instead of an average €7.

Marc-Olivier Sebbag, spokesperson for the FNCF, the French federation of exhibitors, said that while he was rather upbeat about the reopening of cinemas, he hoped admissions caps will be lifted shortly after the reopening of theaters to relieve exhibitors.

“Exhibitors will soon be facing all the charges and in many cases the rents that were postponed during the pandemic,” said Sebbag.

“On top of the social charges and rents, they will also have to pay the staff during weeks where the level of admissions will inevitably be low due to the restrictions, so let’s cross fingers that there won’t be a second wave,” said Sebbag.