France’s Distributors Hold Their Nerve in Second Lockdown and Stick to Release Plans

France’s Distributors Hold Their Nerve in Second Lockdown and Stick to Release Plans

France’s exhibitors and distributors are aiming for a quick restart when theaters are allowed to reopen, whenever that may be.

During the first lockdown, which lasted nearly three months, many French distributors took the streaming route, opting to release their films on transactional VOD services and in some cases, sell rights to SVOD platforms such as Amazon or Netflix. But this time around, key distributors like Gaumont, Studiocanal and Le Pacte, who had movies playing when theaters shut down on Oct. 29, told Variety that they’re planning to re-release their pics when cinemas reopen, even if a date is still unknown.

Among the films that will return to theaters are Gaumont’s “Bye Bye Morons,” a black comedy directed by Albert Dupontel; Le Pacte’s “DNA,” directed by Maiwenn; Studiocanal’s “Little Vampire,” an animated feature by Joann Sfar; and comedy “30 Jours Max” from Tarek Boudali.

“We will very proudly be re-releasing both movies theatrically again as soon as the theaters open,” said Studiocanal boss Anna Marsh.

“DNA,” which was part of Cannes 2020’s Official Selection, has been acquired by Netflix for North America, U.K., Australia/New Zealand, South Africa and the Middle East. However, in France, Le Pacte isn’t planning a sale to a streamer, said founder Jean Labadie.

During the first lockdown, the company sold France rights to Matteo Garrone’s “Pinnochio” to Amazon Prime Video, but Labadie said that won’t happen again.

“Distributors in France are committed to releasing their films in theaters because the number of admissions speak for themselves. During the week leading to the shutdown, we sold 3 million tickets despite the pandemic, the 9 p.m. curfew and the near absence of American movies,” said Richard Patry, the head of France’s National Exhibitors Association.

“We were basically at 50% of normal admissions, which corresponds to the usual market share of French movies; and that underscores the dynamism of moviegoing in France, the breadth and diversity of French and European movies being offered and the appetite of audiences,” added Patry.

Initially announced for one month, the lockdown should in principle end on Dec. 1, but most predict it won’t be lifted before the end of the year. That said, distributors are sticking to theatrical plans with upcoming releases.

Gaumont, for instance, will be releasing Valerie Lemercier’s “Aline,” a film inspired by Celine Dion’s life, in cinemas, and won’t sell first-window rights to a platform, confirmed Gaumont’s Ariane Toscan du Plantier. The movie has already pre-sold to independent distributors around the world. During the first wave of the pandemic, the French company ended up selling Olivier Marchal’s “Bronx” to Netflix after it had been scheduled for a release in French theaters.

Exhibitors are also approaching the shutdown differently.

“Last time we were forced to close, we asked the French government for a one-month notice to get ready to reopen all at once, but this time around, they are preparing for a quicker turnaround and will coordinate a global relaunch faster,” said Patry. The exec said the restart in June had also been particularly slow because distributors were holding back their films, unsure if audiences were ready to return to cinemas.

“Up until ‘Tenet’ we lacked big movies. We had lots of wagons but no locomotive. This time, we’re feeling more optimistic and no one will be making the same mistakes,” said Patry, who is hopeful that theaters will reopen in time for the Christmas holiday — “traditionally one of the busiest periods for theaters.”

For November alone, the shutdown of theaters will represent a loss of revenues amounting to approximately €150 million ($177 million), predicts Patry. Before the second wave of the pandemic kicked off, the French government announced a pair of newly-launched funds: one of €50 million ($58.8 million), which covers box office losses, and another of €34.3 million ($40.3 million) aimed at helping theaters stay afloat. Patry said these schemes are expected to be increased and extended in the face of the current shutdown.

Amid the lockdown, exhibitors are also facing the issue of rent, which isn’t covered by any scheme or subsidy. Although local authorities have traditionally stayed out of contractual negotiations between landlords and renters, the FNCF is in discussions with the finance and economy ministries to get rents waived partially or fully during the shutdown and possibly set up a solidarity fund.

“This problem of rent impacts exhibitors of all sizes, notably the largest, [such as] Gaumont-Pathé, UGC and CGR,” said Patry. “These are very big [rental payments].”

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