Cinemas based on and around Paris’s Champs-Elysées are due to close for business this Saturday (Dec 8) as the French capital braces itself for a fresh round of ’yellow vest’ protests.
The world-famous boulevard has been a flash-point for wildcat demonstrations by France’s ’yellow vest’ movement, which sprang up spontaneously to protest a duty hike on diesel, but is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in French society over rising living costs.
Rioting and looting on the boulevard last weekend saw the entrances of popular theatres such as the UGC Normandie, where the Cannes Film Festival holds its annual news conference, and smaller boutique venues including the Publicis and Balzac cinemas trashed. A number of automatic ticket machines were also smashed.
None of these cinemas was due to open for business this Saturday. The UGC Normandie, which is playing Astérix: The Secret Of The Magic Potion, Widows, Leto and Through The Fire, said on its website the programme would resume on Sunday, Dec 9.
Priscilla Gessati, director of the Balzac Cinema, who as late as Thursday had been hoping to stay open on Saturday confirmed the venue would now be shut.
“The latest developments and calls for demonstrations are too numerous and virulent,” said Gessati.
It will be the third Saturday in a row that the cinema has been forced to close its doors.
“The first Saturday we were caught off guard because November 24 demonstration was supposed to take place on the Champs de Mars,” said Gessati, referring to the large public green-space in front of the Eiffel Tower.
“But the ‘yellow vests’ started arriving on the Champs-Elysées and things began to heat up. We tried to stay open but were forced to evacuate the spectators and close the cinema around 1 pm because it was getting dangerous and some tear gas canisters had been set off in front of the cinema making the air in the theatre unbreathable… we didn’t try to open on 1st December.”
Gessati said the forced Saturday closures come at what should be a busy time for all the cinemas on and around the Champs-Elysées.
“It’s an important period for the cinemas with lots of films coming out at the moment. It represents a considerable loss of earnings,” she explained. ”On the first Saturday of protests, we had just launched Mikhaël Hers’s Amanda. It drew 210 spectators at the Balzac on the first Wednesday. That’s a good opening and we would have expected it to do well over the weekend and perhaps draw some 700 spectators. Instead, we did zero.”
She adds the closures come at the end of a testing year for all the businesses on and around the Champs-Elysées, which was also the scene of riots in July after celebrations for France’s World Cup turned violent. It also comes at a complicated time more generally for cinema theatres on the world-famous boulevard. Once one of Paris’s main cinema-going hubs, with some 20 theatres. the avenue is home to just four theatres today.
Box office impact
Marc-Olivier Sebbag, director general of French exhibitors body La Fédération National des Cinéma Français (FNCF) said it was too early to assess the impact of the protests on the overall box office.
“The figures are very patchy. Obviously, cinemas based in the protest hotspots have had a rough time but in places untouched by the protests the box office remains buoyant,” said Sebbag. “We’re monitoring the situation and working out how we can look at the data and will release a report at the end of December.”
Elsewhere in Paris, cinema chains appeared to be taking a wait-and-see approach. The mk2 arthouse chain, for example, told Screen it was planning to keep its venues open, including those around the La République and Bastille neighbourhoods, which are likely to be hubs for protests on Saturday.
The cinemas of the Champs-Elysées are among a number of cultural venues and tourist sites that are due to stay closed on Saturday including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. An annual televised charity Telethon which usually broadcasts live from a stage on the Place de la Concorde has also been cancelled.
French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday the “yellow vest” protests had hit the economy hard, particularly in Paris.