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French cinemas in some regions impacted by violent riots but admissions hold steady

French exhibitors were forced to close some multiplexes around the country over the weekend as violent riots sparked by the fatal shooting of a 17-year old boy by a police officer in Nanterre on June 27, saw commercial properties and public buildings, including cinemas, set ablaze.

UGC closed its multiplex cinemas in Paris suburbs Rosny and Créteil starting on Friday night and both Pathe and UGC closed theatres over the weekend from 18.00 in some regions to after 21.00 in others.

In Cergy, a north-western suburb of Paris, rioters set the local UGC cinema on fire late on Wednesday evening into early Thursday morning. No one was injured in the attack, but windows were broken and a mortar shell was fired at the building that was set ablaze.

UGC said it “deplores the incidents that took place” that “partially damaged the UGC cinema in Cergy” adding that “the cinema is a symbol of culture and community life,” but that “thanks to the mobilization of all staff” the cinema would reopen the following day.

In the early hours of Friday morning, a cinema in the Alpine south-eastern town of Chambery, situated in a municipal building, was set ablaze, destroying its entryway.

Pathé closed its cinema in Amiens completely following the incident and cinemas in Lyon followed suit with both Pathe and UGC cancelling screenings after 21.00. Pathe’s Carre de Soie location shut its doors completely from noon on Saturday due to the escalating violence in the region.

In Paris’ Ile-de-France region, no buses or tramways are running after 21.00 each night and several roads have been blocked due to increased police presence.

The riots are the worst civil unrest in France for decades and have seen several thousand people arrested over the past several days and more than 45,000 police deployed on the streets.

As of today, July 2, France’s interior ministry says the level of violence has begun to subside but pressure continues to grow on the government to introduce a state of emergency.

Fête du Cinema

Despite the violence, the annual Fête du Cinema promotional event kicked off as planned on Sunday July 2 in some 6,000 cinemas. Cinemagoers can buy tickets for just €5 from July 2-5. Last year’s 37th edition attracted more than 3.3 million people for its four-day event with tickets priced at €4.

Marc-Olivier Sebbag, executive director of France’s National Cinema Federation, the FNCF, which organises the initiative, described the burning cinemas as “isolated incidents. Cinemas aren’t being attacked specifically, it’s because they are next to other buildings and caught in the crossfire.”

He added “the situation in each place is very different and is changing by the day.”

For example, cinemas that closed in Lyon have reopened, but violence escalated in Marseille over the weekend, prompting theatres in the city to close early.

“For the time being, the impact [on cinemas] is minimal,” said Sebbag. “We’ve been tracking admissions from Wednesday through Sunday night and there hasn’t been a major economic effect from the rioting that we can see.”

Films playing in French cinemas include Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, Pixar’s Elementary and Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny. The first day of the initiative (Sunday July 2) saw 904,600 tickets sold, up 7% from 2022 and 22% more than the 2017-18-19 average. Audiences were twice as big as last Sunday thanks to the initiative.

Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny opened on Wednesday June 28, selling 115,000 tickets for its 3,000 screenings on 689 screens, to become the eighth biggest launch of the year. This was less than Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008 which sold 224,000 tickets sold on opening day from 900 screens.

French cinema-going has been undergoing a slow but steady comeback in recent months, with admissions reaching 14.3m in May, up 27.6% year on year and stable (up 0.9%) with the 2017-2019 average. June figures should be released early this week.

Industry reaction

French film industry figures have weighed in on the situation gripping the country. Actor Omar Sy responded swiftly after the incident, posting on his social media pages along with a photo of the boy – known only by his first name Nahel and last initial M. – sending his “thoughts and prayers” to his family and friends and adding: “May justice worthy of the name honor the memory of this child.”

Juliette Binoche posted to her Instagram page : “A 17 year-old teenager was executed by a bullet in the chest for resisting arrest. A 17 year-old teenager. The emotion that grips us all this evening must be transformed into an irrepressible demand for justice.”

Mathieu Kassovitz, director of 1995’s La Haine, that depicted suburban rioting and clashes between youth and the police, posted a video where he is seen on the verge of tears saying: “Apparently, there are some who still haven’t understood that these are young people in front of them, they’re sons, they’re not thugs, criminals, they don’t have guns.”

“The police are still not trained, they freak out,” he continued. “It’s why police blunders happened. They’re not dealing with angels either, obviously, but the problem is that we’ll never solve these questions until we condemn the police.”


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