French Cinema Chain Boss Says July Re-Opening Is “Unrealistic” & Theaters Should Wait Until Moviegoing Is Not A “Frightening” Experience

EXCLUSIVE: Nathanaël Karmitz, CEO at Paris-based Mk2, which operates the biggest art-house cinema network in France, is preaching patience for the re-opening of theaters.

Speaking to Deadline, Karmitz said that a mid-July opening, which has been bandied around Europe in the last two weeks, initially as a provisional timeline by the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), was unlikely.

“Right now to have a projection in July, I think it’s not realistic,” the Mk2 boss commented. “We can say ‘we want to open’, ‘we want people to come back’. We all want to have a drink with our friends and go back to the movies, especially in France.

“But today no one is able to give a serious date for that. We still don’t know how people are going to go back to school, to work, it’s question after question. We can speculate, but there’s no realistic way to talk about this.”

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The Paris-based group also owns the Cinesur chain in Spain – across its sites in the two countries it clocks 9.5 million admissions per year. Karmitz highlighted Spain as an indicator of how long the process of safely re-opening could realistically take.

“Spain won’t see cinemas opening before Q4, October or November,” Karmitz said, referencing the recent comments made by the country’s Minister of Labour and Social Economy, Yolanda Diaz, in a televised address in which she said that the tourism, culture and leisure sectors will not return until the “end of the year”.

“I think everyone is working on late November and even early December,” he added on Spain.

For Karmitz, however, the question of how cinemas can be re-opened in a way that attracts audiences is more pressing than trying to set a date.

“Our question is not when to re-open, it is how to re-open. If it has to be with masks, two by two [social distancing], with further restrictions, our belief is that it isn’t worth opening and we should wait,” he stated. “We think we should wait until it is a good experience and not a frightening experience. Opening without good conditions doesn’t make sense for us.”

Those conditions also include having strong content available. One of the reasons the mid-July date is being mooted in Europe, alongside it following U.S. chains announcing they are aiming to open doors in July, is that the next major blockbuster still sticking to its original date is Warner Bros’ Christoper Nolan pic Tenet, which is set for July 15-17 in most markets (at the time of writing).

“We need strong movies to re-open,” Karmitz asserts. Even if the Nolan pic holds, which Warner is insisting it will, there are holes in the calendar after all the date shifting that has happened already. The Mk2 CEO says that discussions are now happening in France about how to fill slots once theaters are open; he believes that there will be roughly a two-week period after that point before distributors have the confidence to release big movies.

France may be in a more enviable position than most territories, however, with a healthy supply of local films on the calendar, which regularly do good business at the box office. “We have a very strong French line-up to come so we are not worried,” he adds.

Ultimately, Karmitz notes that the company “will follow what the government says”. Today, it was announced that the country will wait until the end of May to declare when restaurants can re-open, and a date for cinemas will likely come later still.

He notes the situation in France is less worrying than elsewhere as there is a good level of assistance from the French government in place to keep businesses running, meaning cinemas can afford to wait for the right time.

“My way of living with crisis is to live day to day, we have different scenarios on how we can re-open depending on the dates,” he adds. “Right now, we just don’t know.”

The wider Mk2 company is riding out the pandemic, with its sales side busy locking deals on its extensive library, which consists of more than 800 titles including numerous classics. This week, the company announced a deal with Netflix that will see the service stream a selection of titles, including Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, in French-speaking territories throughout 2020. Also this week, Mk2 brought veteran French producer Rosalie Varda onboard as an advisor for the catalogue.

The outfit has been looking for innovative ways to keep people entertained during the lockdown, including creating a short film ‘confined contest’, and launching an online platform through its magazine Troiscouleurs which is hosting five films – “strange and rare” titles from the archive – to watch for free per week.

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