When Disney announced that its Mulan remake would go straight to Disney+, one French cinema owner showed his disapproval by filming himself smashing a promotional display of the film with a baseball bat. Now that the House of Mouse has made the same call for Pixar’s Soul, the reaction from France has been less violent, but louder.
La Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Francais (FNCF), the trade body for French exhibitors, has published an angry response to Disney’s move (via Le film français). “The theaters wish to share their immense frustration with regards to this decision, which is destructive to the entire sector,” reads the statement. Pointing out that all 2,045 cinemas in France are open, it describes Disney’s refusal to release films theatrically in the country as “economically totally unjustified.” (Disney has said that Soul will be released in theaters only in territories where Disney+ doesn’t operate.)
The statement marks a change of tone from the FNCF, which to date has been relatively patient in the face of delays and cancellations of releases. The only U.S. tentpole to have come out in the country since its cinemas reopened is Warner Bros.’s Tenet, and the association is now castigating other studios for withholding their films. The statement continues:
More generally, American studios that delay or cancel the releases of highly popular, highly anticipated films run the risk causing long-term harm to theaters, although these are at the heart of the studios’ activities. The FNCF calls for an approach that values countries where all theaters are open and following strict sanitary protocols, and where audiences are turning up in large numbers to see films on release.
According to data released by France’s National Cinema Centre, there were an estimated 5.5 million cinema admissions in the country in September, equivalent to a gross of around USD$43 million. That represents a year-on-year drop of just over 50% — big, but not as drastic as in many other territories (the U.S., for example, has had nearly an 80% drop). French productions have been picking up the slack in the absence of blockbusters, and state aid for theaters has helped.
Still, as long as those blockbusters are withheld, the country’s exhibition sector remains precarious, and the FNCF’s statement speaks to the impact of the U.S. studios’ decisions beyond American borders. In the U.S. itself, exhibition is also in a parlous state: filmmakers and lobbyists recently called on Congress to provide urgent relief for the sector.
French cinemas can look forward to one Hollywood title: Trolls World Tour, which Universal will release in the country on Wednesday, having sent it straight to VOD in many territories in April. In general, the French theatrical schedule is packed with animated releases in the coming months, including Away; Josep; Calamity, a Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary; Little Vampire; and Lupin III: The First.