French cinemas face 400-film backlog as they prepare to reopen

·3 min read

France's love affair with cinema threatens to be an overwhelming experience next week, when theatres finally reopen -- the scheduling nightmare of a massive backlog of 400 films.

On the outskirts of Paris, cinema owner Stephane Goudet is poring over the long list of options, trying to figure out how to gives as many films as possible their shot at succeed.

"It's like a giant Tetris!" he told AFP.

Some had just been released and were scoring well when the second lockdown in October stopped them in their tracks.

Among them were French film "DNA", by award-winning director Maiwenn. And also doing well when the curtains fell was Thomas Vinterberg's "Another Round", starring Mads Mikkelsen, which picked up this year's foreign film Oscar.

No less than 45 films are slated for release when cinemas reopen on May 19 after six months of pandemic-induced closure -- two to three times the usual number.

The authorities have encouraged cinemas to play multiple films in each screening room, so Goudet crams in 18 movies across his six screens for the opening week.

- Local and international -

Audiences at France's 2,000-plus cinemas enjoy both international hits and the products of its own prolific film industry.

There are the Oscar winners to catch up with, including best picture winner "Nomadland" and local success "The Father" from French writer-director Florian Zeller, for which Anthony Hopkins won his second best actor award. It also picked up best adapted screenplay.

Long-delayed Hollywood blockbusters will also soon start taking up space, including superhero slugfests "Black Widow" and "The Suicide Squad", from the Marvel and DC stables respectively.

And the Cannes Film Festival, pushed back this year to July from its usual slot in May, also will also unleash a barrage of new releases.

The big cinema chains have abandoned attempts to coordinate a calendar.

But France's independent theatres and distributors are still determined to find some agreement to keep smaller films from being lost in the deluge.

"What we want to avoid is a situation where 40 to 60 films a week are looking for screens, especially if distributors rush to release films before Cannes takes place," Etienne Ollagnier, of distributor Jour2Fete and the Syndicate of Independent Distributors (SDI), told Screen Daily last month.

- 'Terrific diversity' -

Despite the logistical headaches, which also include added health protocols and a 35-percent capacity limit in the first weeks, there's a festive spirit in the air.

And while many cinemas in the US have gone bust in the past year, that is less of a threat in France, said Elisha Karmitz, co-head of France's renowned production house and cinema chain MK2.

"We have a different model that isn't so dependent on blockbusters," Karmitz told AFP. "It's that diversity that preserves the French film industry in its entirety."

And of course, the backlog is also a film buff's dream.

"We're going to be able to offer something for every type of cinema-goer, with a terrific diversity," said Aurelie Delage, who runs the Megarama cinema in Angouleme in southwest France.

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