AFC Newsletter Editorial, March 2019

A little tune…, by Gilles Porte, President of the AFC, and Caroline Champetier, Vice-President
At the 44th Annual 2019 César Awards ceremony, it was possible to moon Robert Redford or to have a César awarded to the box-office champion by one’s own father, but it was impossible to voice a number of important questions regarding French cinema without being interrupted by a little tune…

Is this little tune, which tried to interrupt Michel Barthélémy - the great decorator of Frères Sisters - not symptomatic of the current state of our professions ? At a time when the Oscars floated the idea of granting some of the technical awards, including the ones for editing and cinematography, during the commercial breaks which major American filmmakers unanimously refused, should we stand by and watch while everything that is related to the creation of art, culture, writing, beauty, emotions, thought, and cinema gets asphyxiated ?

As is the case at this time of the year every year, the CNC publishes its numbers before spring arrives and encourages us to rejoice along with it over the very good performance of French cinema : “In 2018, French cinemas sold 200 million tickets, more than in Great Britain (176 million), Spain (92 million), or Italy (79 million). And French films, after the 5.7 million tickets sold for Tuche 3, captured 40% of the market share, a record since 2014, netting 1.39 million Euros at the box office in 2017, for 5,912 screens…”

At the risk of introducing a little discordant note into this symphony, let us examine what these data - the supposedly sacrosanct barometer of the public’s taste - hide while we play our own little fanfare…
In 2017, the CNC approved 222 French-funded films. But in 2018, only 33 French films crossed the bar of 500,000 tickets sold, while 45 American films did. Two-thirds of all films released sell less than 100,000 tickets, meaning that together, they gross 5% of all tickets sold. In other words, one third of all films grosses 95% of all tickets sold.

France has 5,900 screens and it is not rare that 4,600 of them are being monopolized by ten films. Is it so strange that these ten films are consistently the highest-grossing films at the box office, even though some of them attract fewer than 20 viewers per screening and only owe their good ranking to their overexposure ? Wouldn’t it be better to think about how a healthier balance in terms of number of screens could be achieved ? If we allow the market to “regulate” itself, which is currently the preferred solution of some, wouldn’t cinemas only show those films produced by the major studios and their platforms, by television channels and their affiliates, and by integrated production-distribution groups ? What would become of independence ? What will we have to say of diversity then ? Will what the food industry is currently blaming for its problems, namely large-scale distribution, become the norm for the cinema industry ?

In 2018, of the twenty films with the most tickets sold, there were only four original creations.
Wouldn’t it be more judicious to ask ourselves about how films are currently being produced in France ? Aren’t most producers applying for subsidies without taking any risks ? Are we not witnessing the transformation of the industry into a system where losses are shared while profits are individual ? Do you seriously think that things are going well for independent filmmakers ? How many shoots are being sent abroad, outside of France ? Why are studios closing in France ? How many films begin shooting while they are still underfunded ? Must we accept the diktats of pitch and casting handed down by the financiers ?

At a time, there were tribunes and protests… Now, there is the “little tune” and some low-brow skits, such as when a part-time theatre worker stood up in the Salle Pleyel to spin some pizza dough and there you had all of Italian cinema summed up in one gesture…

What if the CNC instead asked us to look at the data from a broader perspective ? Is it not urgent for all of us - filmmakers, producers, distributors, operators, technicians, actors, and viewers - to examine together how French film is being made and distributed ? Our French cinema which is harder and harder to export abroad… Has the time not come to examine the current disinterest in France for making films that accentuate the artistic and technical gap between our films and those being produced in the English-speaking and Asian countries ? Cinema is a language, indeed…but is the screenplay the only parameter that ought to be reinforced in this expression ?

All of the current discussions regarding unemployment insurance coverage for part-time theatre workers, the underfinancing of films, and of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for our industry are so closely related to this problem : if tomorrow, films - our films - can no longer make it into theatres and cross borders, if new filmmakers cannot emerge internationally, what good are new measures and new debates ? Let us raise our heads, count one another, acknowledge one another, group together to create a bloc, let’s combine forces, multiply them, and let’s learn to count differently…

The last words of this editorial are borrowed from Michel Barthélémy who, to music, on Friday evening, reminded us that “People speak of us artists and technicians as people who cost a lot of money but never earn any…”.

(Translated from French by Alexander Baron-Raiffe)

The thumbnail above is the cover of March’s issue of AFC La Lettre which was reconstituted from a photo taken on set of C’est ça l’amour, by Claire Burger, cinematography by Julien Poupard, AFC, centre.