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ECONOMY

‘A lifeline for small towns’ – France keeps building cinemas despite Covid

The coronavirus pandemic might not seem like the obvious time to build new movie theatres, but in cine-mad France, it will take more than a virus to dampen passions for the big screen.

'A lifeline for small towns' - France keeps building cinemas despite Covid
Cinemas in France have been closed for months due to the health crisis. Photo: AFP

The town of Romorantin, deep in the Loire Valley south of Paris, has a population of 17,000 – which by French standards, makes it ripe for a new multiplex cinema.

On a recent morning, forklifts were whirling as workers rushed to complete the five-screen theatre by the end of March.

It is not the only one. France saw 22 new cinemas open their doors in 2020, despite theatres being unable to operate for much of the year.

Several more are under construction or being renovated.

France, the birthplace of moving pictures, has almost always had the highest cinema attendance in Europe.

Even though attendance was down two-thirds last year thanks to 23 weeks of closures and the cancellation of many Hollywood blockbusters, the country weathered the disruption better than most – in part because it could still rely on its prolific, homegrown movie industry.

Parisian cinema lovers are hoping that the capital's many small movie theatres may soon reopen. Photo: AFP

France is also known for its network of tiny independent cinemas dotted across its villages and small towns.

Some are beautifully quaint – but struggling to attract the next popcorn-guzzling generation.

READ ALSO: Eight great French films to watch over the holidays

The new multi-million-euro Cine Sologne complex in Romoranti is being built in an out-of-town car park, and replaces the old Palais in its medieval centre, which attracted some 70,000 spectators a year but lacked the technology and comfort needed to rival home cinema offerings.

“We have to attract people who want to go to the cinema, but look at these small, local theatres and think, 'No thanks',” said Cedric Aubry, head of the construction firm.

He specialises in bringing shiny new complexes to remote locations not considered worthwhile by the major chains.

This is his fourth cinema construction since the pandemic began, and he says the model is working, with similar remote projects in places like Meuse and Yonne as much as tripling local attendance.

READ ALSO: Why the French passion for dubbing films shows no sign of dying out

The planned programme of a closed Parisian movie theatre. Photo: AFP

'Lifeline'

For a town like Romorantin, still reeling from the closure of a car plant and devastating floods over the past couple of decades, such projects are indispensable, said mayor Jeanny Lorgeoux.

“It's a crucial lifeline for a small town,” he told AFP. “It's a social link with others, between generations, and an economic boost.”

Since the factories disappeared from this region, cinemas have become a rare place where the remnants of the working class rub shoulders with the Loire Valley's “chateau and hunting” set.

Aubry agrees, and raises the 'yellow vest' protests that spread across rural France in 2018 and 2019.

“The message was that people felt abandoned out in the provinces. It's a modest response, but clearly among the 2,000 cinemas of France, many are in dire need of renovation and transformation.

“The cinema is often, especially in small towns, the last important cultural place that still appeals to all people,” said Aubry – and it helps to have five screens that can show the latest Fast and Furious alongside an existential drama starring Isabelle Huppert.

As for the pandemic? “That's no reason to give up,” he said.

Far from it: “This crisis has only reinforced how much we miss being around other people.”

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HEALTH

Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?

As France launches its autumn vaccine campaign, almost half of those eligible for the second booster jab in France have already received it. This has left some wondering whether they could qualify for a third booster, using the new dual-strain vaccines.

Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?

Question: I’m in my 70s and I had my second booster back in the summer but now I see that the new dual-strain vaccines are available – should I be getting an extra booster with the new type of vaccine?

French health authorities launched the autumn booster campaign on October 3rd includes newly authorised dual-strain vaccines – such as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.1, the Moderna vaccine adapted to BA.1, and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.4/5 – which are designed to combat the Omicron variant.

It will be followed by the seasonal flu vaccination campaign in mid October.

READ MORE: When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

In France, about 6.3 million people have received a second booster dose, “or 41 percent of the eligible population,” said the Directorate General of Health (DGS) to Ouest France.

Currently only those in high risk groups are eligible for a second booster shot, including pregnant women, the elderly those with medical conditions or carers – find the full list here.

As almost half of the eligible population have already received a fourth vaccine, many are wondering whether they will be eligible for a fifth (or third booster) in order to access the new dual-strain vaccine.  

According to Virginie, a representative from HAS – France’s health authority – the organisation “no longer thinks in terms of doses for high-risk people and immunocompromised patients.”

Specifically, the HAS recommends that a new injection be given – and if possible one of the dual-strain vaccines – “regardless of the number of injections received up to now”.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster in France?

However, French health authorities specified that the additional booster should “respect the minimum recommended time between two doses.”

“This depends based on your profile – for people aged 80 and over, residents of nursing homes or long-term care units (USLD) and those who are immunocompromised, the wait-time is three months between jabs. For the others, the delay is set at six months.”

For those who have already been infected by Covid-19, the HAS recommends that if you are eligible for a second (or third booster) that the additional dose “is still recommended, with a minimum delay of three months after infection.”

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