Hopes of an early spring reopening for cinemas in France have been dashed by a Covid-19 surge over the last two weeks that has led to new restrictions in 19 regional departments, including Paris and the Ile-de-France, until mid-April.
“We’re now in a situation in which infections are very high but the expectation is that a month from now, things will be clearer at which point the government will be able to announce a calendar,” says Marc-Olivier Sebbag, managing director of the National Federation of French Cinemas (FNCF).
Alexis Mas at Condor Distribution had been planning an April release for Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic’s Oscar hopeful Quo Vadis, Aida? but is now plotting an autumn launch preceded by a French marketing tour with the director to lay the ground for the release.
“We’ll wait for the Oscars now,” he says referring to the April 26 ceremony from which the nominated drama could walk away with best international film. “A work like this needs preparation and with everything shut until at least mid-April, that’s just not possible.”
Quo Vadis Aida? is among a backlog of some 300 to 400 feature films estimated to be awaiting a theatrical release in France, after some 240 days, or eight months, of cinema closures since March 2020.
Mas reports flagging spirits within the distribution and exhibition sectors as the pandemic continues. He says the current second period of closure that began at the end of last October is proving harder to bear.
“The turning point was the false promise of a reopening on December 15. When this was cancelled there was a real drop in morale,” he says.
“Up until then there was a sense of hope, especially as audiences had started to build following the first reopening, proving the public was there,’” he adds, referring to the June 22, 2020 reopening after 14 weeks of closure last spring.
The disillusionment is also mixed with anger that while cultural spaces including cinemas have been shut, non-essential shops and shopping centres have remained open in this period, although they too have now been ordered to shut in the regions hit by stricter restrictions.
“It was a slap in the face when cinemas were made to close while the department stores were allowed to stay open, especially given how we [distributors and exhibitors] had pulled ourselves up the hill again from June 22, in an exemplary manner. The only thing to do in France these last few months has been stay at home, or consume” says Eric Lagesse, CEO of Pyramide Distribution.
His unreleased films range from Céline Sciamma’s Berlinale Golden Bear contender Petite Maman to Cannes 2020 label title Simple Passion, which physically world premiered at San Sebastian, and Iranian drama Sundance 2020 grand jury prize winner Yalda, which had just been released on October 20 when cinemas shut.
“Scientific studies in Germany, by the Pasteur Institute [in France], have demonstrated that cinemas aren’t any more dangerous than other locations like a shopping mall. The sudden closure of cinemas in October was brutal for the films on release,” continues Lagesse. ”All this time that non-essential shops were open – November, December, January, February and half of March, cinemas could have been open too. It would have allowed us to release a certain number of films. Now we have some 300 films sitting on the shelf with no idea of how we are going to release them.”…