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French exhibitors body La Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Francais (FNCF) is calling on the government to soften new nighttime curfew rules, aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19, to allow cinemagoers to return home after the 9pm cut-off.

On Wednesday, French president Emmanuel Macron announced a 9pm to 6am curfew in Paris and eight other French cities, which will take effect from Saturday night (October 17) for at least four weeks, and most likely until December 1.

Under the curfew, people are obliged to be back home by 9pm which means cinemas need to end their final séance of the day by 8.30pm at the latest, to give spectators and staff time to comply. 

As a result, key evening screenings, which usually start around 7.30-8.30pm and then 9.30-10pm are no longer viable 

“What we’re asking for is that cinema and theatre spectators can get home after 9pm,” FNCF general manager Marc-Olivier Sebbag told Screen.

Such a dispensation would enable cinemas to retain at least one evening screening, starting around 7-7.30pm

“We’re trying to gain an hour,” said Sebbag. 

Alongside Paris and the surrounding Ile-de-France region, the other curfewed cities are Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Aix-Marseille, Montpellier, Rouen, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse.

“We’ve calculated that the impacted cinemas account for around 40% of the national box office and that the cancelled seances account for 40 to 50% of their box office,” said Sebbag.

He said the exhibitors’ biggest fear right now was that distributors would take fright and start deprogramming their films, which in turn would force cinemas to shut down, in some cases for good.

Some distributors have already announced their intention to pull planned releases.

Arp Sélection, for example, has decided to delay its wide 500-screen release of Korean zombie thriller Peninsula, which was scheduled for October 23, until December 16.

“The film lasts two hours so, under the curfew, we’d have to begin the last screening at six o’clock. We decided with the team it didn’t make sense to release this sort of film under these circumstances. It’s a fun film targeted at young adults, the sort of thing you go to see with a group of friends at night, not at six o’clock and then rush home,” said Arp Sélection co-chief Michèle Halberstadt.

Sabbag said, however, that he hoped distributors would hold the line before shifting the dates of upcoming releases while negotiations were underway with the government and the ministry of culture.

“The story isn’t over yet,” he said. 

In the backdrop, the curfew is a particularly bitter pill for both the cinemas and distributors to swallow right now as the French box office had been holding up better than many other territories in Europe thanks to homegrown comedies and dramas.