Digital Dragon set to slay Rural Cinema?

French arthouse screens, rural and mobile cinema along with intimate neighbourhood cultural facilities are under imminent digital threat of closure, a group of rural cinema afficionados warns.


Ciné Passion voicing the concerns about the impact on rural cinema of the switch to digital.

On 16 June 2010 deputies in the National Assembly voted in a new law regarding digital equipment facilities for film screenings and set out in this bill.

Before the bill became law deputies voted in a number of amendments, including a clause related to funding the digital switch-over:

“Funding for the initial installation of digital projection equipment facilities for film screenings can be shared. Such sharing can be made between cinema operators, owners of cinema businesses or by intermediaries supplying necessary investment.”

Likewise they made provision to revise the Act should it later emerge that the country’s highly valuable film industry — a financial as well as a fundamental cultural asset — was being affected detrimentally by the move to digital:

“Twelve months after the promulgation of this Act, a monitoring committee will be responsible for assessing its implementation and ensuring it meets the needs of the cultural diversity of films on offer and regional cultural development.”

The Act also calls for a report on the implementation of this legislation from the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée – CNC (France’s national agency for the cinema and animation), charged with proposing any changes that may be required.

Deputies in parliament may have moved to mitigate the worst fears raised by the digital revolution but those in the front line remain unconvinced.

Rafael Maestro, Director of the Périgord Ciné-Passion association insists the costs of the looming digital demands on small cinemas and the mobile movies seem certain to bring about the demise of vital cinema facilities around the country.

He states starkly: Just like record stores, and bookshops, small theatres are now being overwhelmed by the digital revolution.”

In a recent letter of appeal to the public to support a cinema tradition that is widespread outside the main population centres, he writes: “You must know that we are one of 2600 independent cinemas in France, and all of us are now obliged to equip our theatres with a digital projector to meet a 2013 deadline (requiring all cinemas to go digital). Our small film theatres are currently fighting for their very lives. Digital equipment is hugely expensive. In France we don’t go to the movies to escape the TV! We go to the cinema to see a movie. …The cinema in the countryside is not some kind of utopia, particularly in France, where the cinema network is one of the most extensive in the world, it is a way of life. The Dordogne is no exception to the rule.

M. Maestro adds: “The Dordogne has seen cinema attendance in rural areas quadruple over the past 15 years (65 000 spectators in 1993, 250,000 in 2005), thanks to its network of screens (five in 1991, 10 cinemas plus a mobile screen in 2003). Beyond just a place for projecting a film rural cinema has become a meeting place which regulars use as others elsewhere might do a bar or a club.”

The campaign being waged by Ciné-Passion is proving a lightening rod for concerns voiced with increasing volume by communities in smaller towns and regions around the country.

Across France départemental authorities concerned to foster rural cinema, are clearly worried about the impact of digital. Indeed the CNC has produced a detailed report reviewing the state of rural and mobile cinema policy across France.

“Mobile cinema helps to overcome difficult access to cinema in rural areas and to make cinema an educational tool for children” say the authorities in Nièvre, a département in Burgundy where 16 municipalities are involved in rural and itinerant cinema initiatives.

It is in the summer when glorious weather encourages outdoor and other less conventional settings for film shows and film festivals, that the strength of community support can be seen. Here for example is how some parts of the countryside accommodate France’s love for the cinema with the realities of life in thinly populated regions:

PART (S) OF BURGUNDY COUNTRYSIDE take you “on the road” in 2010

This film festival takes place in a “miniplex” , in the quaint charm of a local barn, the agricultural shadow of the local smithy, the unconventionality of a caravan and so on.

No the film projectors at this festival are not tractor-powered but they might use caravans for some shows

In Burgundy, Ouroux en Morvan, a small village of 700 inhabitants, nestling in the heart of Morvan mountains surrounded by lakes, accommodates an annual festival that runs from 16 to 18th July. Full programme in pdf format here

Story: Ken Pottinger

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