The seventh art fights to save the cultural exception

“For great emotion, to laugh and cry in the dark, for the big screen… We all have a good reason to go to the cinema. » Launched on October 26, 2022, this communication campaign desired by the Ministry of Culture, supported by the CNC (National Center for Cinema and Moving Image) and professional organizations, will it be enough to revitalize attendance at half mast? ?

Because the figures are there: since the beginning of the year, admissions have fallen by 30% compared to 2019, a record year, it is true. The Covid and the closing of theaters for some 300 days were more than a parenthesis. “Viewers swapped their cinema cards for a subscription to Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney +”, notes David Thion, producer (Les Films Pelléas). Again, the drop would be around a third.

On the theater side, the circuits suffer from the lack of Hollywood blockbusters, on the independent distributor side, the gap continues to widen between the films that meet the public and the others. Whether the innocent by Louis Garrel is set to exceed 500,000 admissions, Tori and Lokita by the Dardenne brothers, special prize at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, capped at 50,000 admissions. “If you are not one of the distributors who know a “good sequence” (a certain success in theaters, editor’s note), you are faced with 80 or 90% less revenue”, underlines Grégory Gajos, director at Ad Vitam distribution.

However, this crisis is not the first to affect the cinema. The seventh art had to deal with the arrival of the small screen, the video recorder, private channels… But “every time, the public authorities have found the means to preserve the principle of cultural exception”, continues David Thion. This was especially true in the aftermath of World War II.

“The CNC was created, reminds director Lucas Belvaux, to save the French cinema industry”, threatened by the influx of films from Hollywood. “In a roundabout way, we were able to save the cinema as an art, to save its soul. » The invention of the TSA, a tax on cinema admissions, resulted in American cinema feeding a fund that benefited French films!

However, “Today, when we are faced with an alarming situation, nothing is being done”, deplores Gregory Gajos. Hence the call for general states of cinema launched by professionals. Gathered on October 6, 2022 at the Arab World Institute in Paris, filmmakers, producers, distributors, exhibitors, actors, technicians… all hammered home their concern about seeing cinema “to become a commodity like any other, subject to criteria of short-term profitability”.

Gathered in Paris on October 6, filmmakers, producers, distributors, exhibitors… are calling for the general assembly to be held.


“paradigm shift”

Admittedly, acknowledges David Thion, “The State responded present at the time of the Covid crisis. No company has gone bankrupt. But today, a strong vision in terms of cultural policy is lacking. » Because, in the opinion of many professionals, despite reassuring speeches from the Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul Malak, the alarming signs are multiplying. And to quote the short sentence of the President of the Republic in June 2022, calling for “reinventing cinemas”, especially to broadcast e-sport (!).

Another example, with more serious consequences, is the France 2030 plan, which plans to allocate 300 to 400 million euros to studios and training. “The public authorities are keen to create large audiovisual groups capable of competing with the Anglo-Saxons, it’s very good for producing series but cinema remains a craft, Judge David Thion. The English have invested massively in the audiovisual industry, making Pinewood studios an extremely powerful tool, but English cinema practically no longer exists, apart from the generation of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, the next generation is limited to a few names like Lynne Ramsay. » David Thion sees in this new orientation “a paradigm shift”. “We are talking about content and tips, we are no longer talking about cinematographic works. »

Added to this is the wish expressed by Rima Abdul Malak for a renegotiation of the media chronology as soon as possible, when an agreement had been reached, after long negotiations in January 2022. she is not giving in to pressure from Disney, which is demanding that the films be distributed on its platform four months after their theatrical release, many professionals worry.

A prototype industry

This liberal tropism of the government, however, has positive echoes among some. Like the boss of Pathé, Jérôme Seydoux who exclaimed on France Inter: “We have to evolve, we can’t always wait for Santa Claus, the State which will make magnificent decisions. People don’t want to go to the movies to get pissed off! » Stigmatizing French films “poor”, “weak” and “not good enough”.

To this formal attack on auteur cinema, more than one responded by recalling the relative failures – with regard to their budget and their stated ambitions – of Pathé films such as Notre Dame is burning by Jean-Jacques Annaud or, more recently, Une belle course by Christian Carion. And to quote Conversely the successes of See Paris again by Alice Winocour or the night of 12 by Dominik Moll. Not forgetting the palme d’or for titanium and the lion d’or for the event in 2021 as well as the silver lion for Saint-Omer in September 2022.

Whether, “Furthermore, cinema is an industry”, to quote Malraux, there remains an industry of prototypes, producers like to repeat. No one knows the recipe that will make a film a success. The box office is full of good and bad surprises. ” Wretched, nobody wanted it, apart from Canal + and a few partners, notes David Thion. On arrival it is one of the biggest French successes”, with nearly 2.2 million admissions, a jury prize at Cannes, four Caesars and an Oscar nomination.

And it takes time – which the current French system allows – to see an author emerge. Robert Guédiguian did not fail to recall that before the recognition brought by Marius and Jeanette he had experienced several failures. Arthouse cinema would therefore appear as a ” research and development “, according to David Thion, within the film industry. “The cinema of tomorrow is born from places where there is audacity and not necessarily a lot of visibility”, adds Cyril Brody screenwriter and co-president of the SCA (Associated Cinema Screenwriters).

Two models of society

Conversely, the series, presented as the new Eldorado, have not seen the emergence of any new director. The opposite is happening, starting in the United States, where platforms drain film talent. With the aim of designing products capable of attracting the greatest number of people. Result, the big names in American auteur cinema “were born in the old world, like Martin Scorsese or James Gray. As for a director like Kelly Reichardt (in competition at Cannes), she only exists through festivals, not in the United States,” David Thion is alarmed.

Finally, during this meeting, professionals from all professions recalled the strength of the French system, “envied by the whole world”, as a source of diversity and creativity. “We must not panic by saying, ‘let’s change everything'”, believes David Thion. Now wanting to bet everything on the series would be an illusion, continues Cyril Brody: “There is no guarantee that we can reproduce the success of Lupin, especially since now the youngest would prefer the TikTok application to the platforms. » Precisely, if there is one point on which everyone agrees, it is to win back this young audience, in particular through image education.

For the rest, these are, beyond the figures, two models of society that face each other. “Cinema, like theater or live shows, is the heart of democracy. If we favor small screens that everyone watches at home, we weaken the bond, the knowledge of the other, the confrontation…”, believes Cyril Brody. It is also through cinema that a country, a nation, is built and staged, concludes Lucas Belvaux: “Do we want to leave it to the United States to tell our imagination? »

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The seventh art fights to save the cultural exception