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When The Force Awakens finally lands in theaters around the world, it is going to make an impact. This is hardly news to anybody. French art house theaters know what sort of an impact the movie is going to have, and this has made several of them unhappy. What’s surprising is why the theaters are unhappy. Many are angry with Disney because they aren’t being given copies of the film to show.
The idea of Star Wars as an "art house film" may seem strange. The concept is taken very seriously in France. Any theater designed as "art house" receives subsidies from the state and a special commission exists to decide what films qualify for the category. However, the theaters are allowed to have up to 30% of the films they show not qualify as art house. This has led several theaters to request prints of The Force Awakens because they know how big the movie is going to be and they want in. While Disney will be sending copies of the movie to more than 280 art house theaters across France, that’s not nearly enough to satisfy all that want it. This has led Sylvain Pinchon, the director of the Méliès cinema to start a petition, accusing Disney of boycotting the smaller theaters in large cities in favor of the larger chains.
The battle doesn’t stop there however, because according to Deadline, the indie producers union (SPI), normally an ally of the art house theaters, has come out against the screening of The Force Awakens in these theaters. They are afraid that if too many art house screens are taken up by Star Wars, then too many other independent films will not be seen over the holidays. It’s a valid concern. Every movie screen is valuable real estate, and if one is showing Star Wars it can’t show anything else. Still, Pinchon seems to differentiate between this movie and most other major releases, calling it a film for all audiences, not mass audiences, and saying that the saga is an integral part of the culture.
Most of the 30% of films that these theaters show that doesn’t qualify as art house is more commercial product, so putting Episode VII there would not be as unusual as it may seem. The theaters are also being fairly transparent that this is about money. They know how much this film is going to bring in, and they want a piece of it.
Disney is talking to the angry theaters to attempt to reach a solution, but whether they’ll be willing to put the film in more art house theaters is not clear. The film is already planned for 535 cinemas in the country, with multiple screens allocated in many of them. As much as you’d think they would be willing to just pile on additional locations there actually is a saturation point, even for Star Wars.