An annual Parisian summer tradition started this week, the Cinema en
Plein Air, or "Open Air Cinema" festival. For 18 years people have been coming to the La Villette park in the northern nineteenth arrondisement to watch movies projected on a giant inflatable screen every night from mid-July to mid-August. Until this year, it was free.
This year tickets are two euros each, which has raised the ire of moviegoers. At a recent showing of Ninotchka, starring Greta Garbo, people had a mixed reaction about having to pay for tickets. Some said
they expected outdoor festivals to be free, and others remembered previous years with regret. Some wondered if they shouldn't be paying for movies, though recognizing that two euros is a symbolic
Adiren Quenette of La Villette says the organisers felt pressured into charging by the Centre national de la cinГ©matographie, the national cinematography centre, which regulates the movie industry in France.
"The CNC asked us to charge, because they considered that it was unfair competition towards the cinemas around the Parc de la Villette," said Quenette. "They wanted us to charge. Then we could decide the amount of money. They didn't ask us to give them money. They asked us to charge so that people would not only decide to go see movies because it's free. It's a symbolic two euros that was foisted on us by the CNC."
A spokesperson for the CNC said they had not forced La Villette into anything. Rather, they recently clarified the rules for non-commercial movie festivals, and those that wanted to continue to be free needed to remove their advertising before the screenings.
La Villette continues to have advertising, so the CNC did not allow them to have a free festival.
Quenette says the price is symbolic and doesn't even cover the extra costs involved, like hiring security and ticket sellers.
Spectators are not the only ones who are unhappy. A community group formed a few weeks ago to fight against the entry fee. Before Ninotchka, four were handing out fliers to people going in, which included the phrase "culture is not a commodity".
Emmanuel Chanial, who is part of the group, says the problem is with the CNC but rather with the organizers themselves who, he says, did not consult spectators about the issue:
"It is the public that loses out," he said. "The public was not alerted, and we were told it just was going to be that way."
What he and his group are calling for is an exception for this yearfor the festival to become free again - and then an open, roundtable discussion over the status for next year's festival.
All of this disagreement, though, is about free festivals causing undue competition for theatres in the neighbourhood. Chanial says it doesn't actually make a difference.
"When [local theatres] show classic movies, it's late at night," he said. "And people don't picnic."
Spectators had a similar reaction, saying the outdoor movie experience is a unique one, not to be compared with going to see a movie in a theatre.
The two euros do not seem to have discouraged too many people so far. According to the organizers, opening night drew a crowd of 2,000 people.
The festival runs every night, except Mondays, through 17 August. On the program are three nights of trilogies, where they show three movies from one director all through the night, with breakfast the next morning.
For those used to the festival being free, the two euros is a bit of a disappointment. But for others, two euros might seem like a bargain.