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Highlights - 13/02/2012
Cinémas 93: a cultural activities network
The wealth of cinemas in Paris is well known. But in focusing too much on the city centre one tends to forget that the suburbs of Paris are also home to a vibrant assortment of dynamic arthouse theatres. These film theatres are sometimes grouped together through associations, as is the case with the 22 cinemas run by a municipality or association in the department of Seine Saint-Denis (the department’s administrative number being 93, to the north and northeast of Paris).
Two of these 22 cinemas are members of the Europa Cinemas Network: L’Ecran in Saint-Denis, which is now holding its annual festival "Est-ce ainsi que les hommes vivent ?" (Is this how people live?), dedicated to revolutions, and Magic Cinéma in Bobigny, organiser of the festival "Théâtres au Cinéma" (whose retrospective in March will pay tribute to Barbet Schroeder, after Alain Tanner a year ago).
Cinémas 93 was established in 1996, out of a desire by the cinemas to implement joint projects and exchange views on their activities, as well as by the General Council of the department to create an event focusing on cinema such as already existed for other arts. In this way the Rencontres cinématographiques de la Seine-Saint-Denis were initiated, which in November 2011 notably honoured Luc Dardenne, Souleymane Cissé and Hal Hartley.
The theatres that make up Cinémas 93 maintain their independence while benefiting from the association's networking activities, which we present here to a European public. A meeting with Frédéric Borgia, its director.
What best characterises the theatres in the Cinémas 93 association?
22 cities (of the 40 in the department) have a cinema that is run either municipally or by an association. 22 cinemas and 38 screens is a very dense network for a department consisting of a so-called "pauperised" suburb. All the same, these cinemas represent 25% of total attendance in Seine Saint-Denis. Aside from that there are the multiplexes, notably the 4th largest cinema in France with almost 2.5 million viewers. So we can boast with good reason that the results of the public cinemas are far from ridiculous. Above all without these cinemas, arthouse cinema (notably European) wouldn't be represented at all.
It's a heterogeneous network; some of the cinemas are stronger than others. The weakest are located in the smaller cities that are less accessible by public transport. But they remain dynamic and today this network needs to reflect on how it will evolve, notably concerning the cultural activities it offers to the public. You can't compete with the multiplexes in terms of film circulation. We've go to find other ways to attract audiences, with educational and cultural activities.
In any given week the network organises from 6 to 10 activities, making for a very high number level of cultural activity.
Do you feel you play a "social" role?
The cinemas of Seine Saint-Denis do play a social role, be it only for their ticket prices. A viewer subscribed to one cinema in the network is automatically subscribed to the other 21. The ticket prices are truly affordable, particularly for families. The average ticket price for subscribers is 4.50 euros.
Apart from that we play a social role because of the content we bring to the inhabitants of cities like La Courneuve, Saint-Denis, etc. We organise cinema concerts, cinema karaokes… For example, together with the cinema Georges Méliès in Montreuil we organised a meeting between Souleymane Cissé and ten or so youths, who then made a film about the encounter.
Half of the cinemas have someone in charge of events and programming for Young Audiences, and we are actively involved with this network. Through it we work with animators in community and leisure centres. In this way, thanks to the intermediary role played by the cinemas, our departmental association comes in contact with local communities.
Our role depends on current events. During the violent unrest in 2005 we weren't satisfied with the image given by the department. We established what we called the "democratic news", asking viewers for videos with their own news. For two years we received films that were then shown prior to projections or in special screenings. By encouraging discussion among citizens, the cinema fully accomplishes its role as a democratic bond.
What are the association's objectives?
They can be summed up along three main lines.
We put in place networking activities, in particular the Rencontres cinématographiques (a 10-day festival) but also programmes and events in the various cinemas, representing roughly 10% of their programming.
As far as educational activities are concerned, we coordinate the Collège au Cinéma programme in the department. We create activities for very small children (2-5 year-olds), notably an annual programme of short films for which we have the prints made and which travels through the department and beyond. The rights for these films (for example those for Russian films featured in the programme "A petits pas" - One small step at a time), are acquired for 2 or 3 years. A few years ago the association also started cinema conferences for children. Using film scenes and photos, we deal with topics like "villains in the cinema" or "fear in the cinema". Here priority is given to meetings with the artists.
Finally, the General Council recently introduced support for creation. We coordinate the department's funding programme entitled "Support for Short Films in Seine Saint-Denis", which funds the post-production and dissemination of around ten short films every year. We circulate these short films in many different places: cinemas, school classrooms and other alternative locations. Each screening takes place in the presence of the film's director or producer.
In addition, the use of digital technology is now one of our main focuses. Cinemas 93 plans to think about the use of digital equipment to remain on the cusp of reflection and action in this matter. That's why we will organise a one-day colloquium on the subject during the Rencontres cinématographiques in the second half of November.
How does digital technology play into your activities?
Last year we carried out awareness campaigns with the cinemas. A large majority of them will be equipped in 6 months.
Today we're putting thought into how to integrate digital technology in our cultural activities. We prefer not to circulate new contents like operas or plays, which the cinemas can obtain themselves if they want. Digital technology will facilitate the dissemination of feature films and short films, and we're interested in how this technology will allow artists to get closer to cinemas and audiences. New visual forms may be introduced in cinemas, encouraging audience participation. The new devices such as tablets and tactile screens make it possible to have audiences, children even, create films that are then shown on the big screen. Films and live performances will be brought together.
How is support for short films developing in the department?
The first support available is for post-production, the most difficult phase in producing short films. Films shot outside the department are also eligible. The second type of support is for dissemination. We support only films that have not received help from the CNC, films that are consequently all the more in need of funding.
The films are shown during special evenings or prior to the main features, as was the case with CROSS by Maryna Vroda, Golden Palm at Cannes in 2011. In recent years we've received several prizes, by the way, notably at the European First Film Festival in Angers. FAIS CROQUER by Yassine Qnia won a prize there just last weekend, while LA DAME AU CHIEN by Damien Manivel was a prize winner in 2011. It's good to get such recognition!
Next week two of my colleagues will be at the International Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrand, where we'll hold a party for issue number 101 of Bref magazine, which dedicates its DVD this time to 5 years of funding for short films in Seine Saint-Denis.
Cinémas 93 currently has a staff of 6 employees. The association is supported by the General Council of Seine Saint-Denis (three quarters of its budget), the Regional Council of Île-de-France and the DRAC (Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs). Part of its budget comes from a modest fee paid by member cinemas.
Jean-Baptiste Selliez, February 2012