Lights go down for test screenings in a handful of French cinemas

Social distancing in a French cinema.
Social distancing in a French cinema. © AFP/Martin Bureau

Some 20 cinemas in France have allowed a few lucky spectators to rediscover the joy of a real screening, marking the anniversary of the first cinema closure due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The event follows a national call to protest against the closure of cultural venues. 


The cinema in Saint-Renan in western France last weekend welcomed spectators to a screening to mark the anniversary of the first cinema closure due to the Covid-19 epidemic.

"Watching films on the couch is fine, but in a cinema it's a completely different experience," said Lucille Quenhervé, shortly before attending the first film of the day in the cinema of the town of 8,000 inhabitants located about 15 kilometres from Brest. 

"I really miss cinema, I understand that there are choices to be made but I find it difficult that cinemas, where people don't move around, where there is no mixing, are closed," says this doctor, who has come to see Il mio corpo, a film by Michele Pennetta.

"It's important for me to be able to have a life outside of work, to be able to have leisure time," said Stéphanie Louboutin, one of 50 registered for the screening.

 "I teach in classes with 35 or 36 students, and in theory it's not a problem, but here, we are in a cinema where we are very far apart, and there would be a problem?" she asked.

National call

The cinema in Saint-Renan, like about twenty others across France, responded to a national call to protest against closures, launched by the Groupement national des cinémas de recherche (GNCR) and the Association du cinéma indépendant pour sa diffusion (Acid). 

"This weekend, it will be a year since all cinemas closed their doors for the first time and have since accumulated 244 days of closure," Céline Michell, president of the Saint-Renan cinema association, told the audience before the screening.

"Because we believe in our mission of general interest, we have chosen to open our doors to you," she continued, before being applauded by the audience, which was masked and separated, with at least two seats between each group. 

"We organise special screenings today, professional screenings that are used to test films that have not yet been released," Maxime Iffour, the only employee of this non-profit cinema classified as "Art et essai", explained to French news agency AFP.

"It's a bit of a militant act to show that we are capable of welcoming people in a safe way," said the cinema's programmer, adding that he did not understand "the government's stubborn refusal to respond" to the expectations of cinemas.

"It's the way to put ourselves in a framework that is as legal as possible," director Clément Schneider, co-president of Acid, told AFP. 

Unreleased films are shown to spectators who have registered in advance via the internet. At the end of the screening, which is free of charge, the audience is invited to fill in a questionnaire which is supposed to help distributors prepare the release of the films.

"The light goes out, the screen comes on, seeing a film in real life and not on a tiny screen, that's a great, great pleasure for me," admits Irène Ménat as she takes her seat in the 300-seat auditorium, a broad smile unmistakable behind her mask.

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