What are arthouses? They are specialized cinemas/screens that consistently show films that are labelled "Art & Essai" by the AFCAE / CNC. 1077 arthouses received this label in 2011 in France, which corresponds to 2235 screens nationwide. They benefit from a financial aid (from the admission price tax) that amounts to nearly 14 Million € collectively.
What are the films labelled "Art & Essai"? They are films reviewed by a college of experts (100 members) representative of the film industry professions, fitting the following set of criteria (defined in 1991, modified in 2002) :
Films projected should either be :
- artistically challenging (filmic research) or artistically new in the domain of cinematographic creation
- quality films that suffered from an undeservedly small audience
- films portraying the life in countries that distribute too little films on the French market
- repertoire films, "classic" films, second-run films with an artistic/historical quality
- short films with a notable refreshing quality
- EVENTUALLY : recent films (critically acclaimed and popular with the audience) which bring a notable contribution to the cinematographic art / amateur films with an exceptional quality
Both French films and foreign films may receive this label, however, the commercial films (with a large audience, a big budget and a huge marketing) tend to be ignored purposefully. The point being to help "small" films to find an audience and stay longer on screens, on a market where they are clearly not competitive enough against the heavy blockbusters turnout. The commission is more permissive/tolerant (quality-wise) for foreign films that have less visibility in France, so it might include films that are considered more "commercial" on their respective market.
Once this benchmark list is established (examples of "art & essai" films here), cinemas that will screen them (for a certain amount of shows per year, in contrast with the other commercial screenings) may get classified "Art & Essai" and receive subsidies, and marketing/distribution aid for these films. Taken into consideration are the diversity of offering, the effort put into cultural animations around screenings (i.e. Ciné Club, conferences, mini-festivals, retrospectives, filmmaker guests...), the quality of the theatre and the equipment, as well as the particular hardship of rural environment, low population, high competition with multiplexes...
Bottom line, the USA cannot fund more arthouse screens than France, in fact they only run 10 times less on a circuit of screens 7 times larger than France (a country 5 times less populated than the USA). This bears repeating until someone realise that there is enough money in the Hollywood film industry (31.8 Billion $ worldwide!) to "spare" a fraction for the preservation/support of a proper artfilm circuit meeting the demand of such a larger demographic. The USA might be the country of the multiplexes and teen flicks... but artfilm-wise they are not at the level the population/moviegoers size requires, it is not even at the level of a European country, in fact it is all the way at the bottom of the world's ranking, next to Iran and India... with countries that have serious issues concerning the underdevelopment of their artfilm circuit. Is this possible??? Why is there NOBODY in the whole USA, for the past 100 years to care about THAT and do something to give the USA its deserved ranking??? Because it is far from it, and film journalists, trade papers, critics, moviegoers, distributors, producers, actors, patrons of the art, philanthropists... there is no one at the moment to take their country in the right direction. The small steps like Redford's Sundance, Ebert's Overlooked Films Festival, indie distributors, or individual exhibitors are a tear drop in the ocean, tiny local actions that remain statistically invisible at a national level. You can do better, you should do better... if you cared.
In 2010, there was 907 cities/towns in France with at least one functioning screen. Of which, 656 cities/towns had at least 1 arthouse screen! In Paris alone (city center), there are 84 cinémas (363 screens, of which 267 are labelled "art & essai" because even multiplexes show artfilms in France!)
In towns with a population inferior to 10000 inhabitants, there are 361 arthouse screens! (more than the USA nationwide total including NYC, LA and Chicago!!! Come on!). In rural areas, there are 104 arthouse screens.
1077 arthouses correspond to 52.6% of total exhibitors. 2235 arthouse screens correspond to 40.9% of total screens. 406493 arthouse seats (37.8% of total).
151 inhabitant per arthouse seat (57 inhab/seat in France total). Proportion of occupied seats for arthouses is 14.6% (15% for France total). Frequency (annual tickets per moviegoer) 0.93 for arthouses (3.37 for France total).
Broken down by number of screens :
605 cinemas "A&E" with a single screen; 311 with 2 or 3 screens; 101 with 4 or 5 screens; 34 with 6 or 7 screens; 25 multiplexes with 8 to 11 screens; and 1 multiplex with more than 12 screens.
2.29 Million arthouse screenings (33.5% of total national screenings). 57.4 Million arthouse spectators (27.7% of total spectators). 317.5 Million € of arthouse box office revenue (24.3% of national total)
These are figures I would love to know about the USA market... if they existed.
The label is frequently scrutinized and criticized by professionals (who complain for not making the cut) or critics (for too many films being deemed "challenging"), even though, the French definition is stricter than the American understanding of what is an "artfilm" (more on that in the next post). For instance, in 2008 there was a protest movement headed by Pascale Ferran, to champion the overlooked/underfunded category of "middle-budget films", those that are too rich to get a subsidy and too poor to be competitive.
In the USA, the definition of an artfilm is much broader (they think that highly commercial movies such as The King’s Speech; Black Swan; Midnight in Paris; Hanna are "artfilms" just because their budget is inferior to 100 Million $ and that they make less B.O. than their budget... What a commercial definition or "art"!
- List of arthouses in France (2011) [PDF] / Classification procedure [PDF]
- Le public du cinéma "Art et Essai" (CNC) [PDF]
- October 2011 releases France
- France market shares (2010)
- Paris weekly distribution (30 Oct 2009)
- Specialised films (UK)
- Chacun cherche son cinéma (2007/omnibus/Cannes film Festival)