the ecological transition causes operators to break out in a cold sweat

Huge energy consumers, movie theaters, were the subject of a CNC study on their carbon footprint. The operators, volunteers but weakened by falling attendance following the health crisis, face a funding headache.

Out of breath after a bike race, Anne Faucon had just returned from a construction job. His cinema will finally see the light of day in the fall in Pont-Sainte-Marie (Aube). A separate building: the first ecologically responsible French cinema with positive energy, built from biomaterials, equipped with dry toilets… But the project was not easy to implement. “We’re trying to do something model, but we’re not getting more help, if not less. We are done crying with blocks. » The co-founder of art and essay network Utopia laments the lack of support from the National Center for Cinema and Moving Image (CNC) and some local elected officials, who she believes are more sympathetic to the CGR multiplex in downtown Troyes.

History is light years away from the goals set by the CPC during the year. Thanks to the Action! plan, launched in June 2021, the institution tackled an important issue: the ecological transition of the cinematographic sector. A year later, the first audit of the carbon footprint of cinemas was published. Based on a panel of fourteen representative facilities, the numerical evaluation shows that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), followed by projectors, are the most energy-intensive elements. The audit concludes with areas for improvement according to the characteristics of the premises.

“Hit the anthill”

Most of the operators that are approached Telerama welcome the CNC initiative. “This is a blow to the anthill, warning to be careful at all levels.” rejoices Jean-Sylvain Minssen, director of the semaphore in Nîmes, who “rosette” when he receives his electricity bills. Marie-Christine Desandres, director of the Le Loft cinema in Chatellerault, who auditioned for the study, gushes: “It is time to conduct an inventory, which will give a start to the activity. We must act, act, considers the operator very sensitive to environmental issues. While everyone sees it as an important subject, some question the purpose of the audit. Mathias Shuker of L’Eldorado, Dijon, is afraid of simple communication effects “aims to quickly grant green labels to distribution sites under somewhat light criteria.”

El Dorado in Dijon.

Photo by Joly/

Take action, yes, but how? What are CNC’s long-term goals for cinemas? Are there any restrictions? “We did not consider it necessary to add additional restrictions, since cinemas are already subject to obligations established by the state.” responds Lionel Bertine, Deputy Director of the CNC Film Department. Indeed, the regulatory obligation stemming from the Élan law of 2018 aims to increase the energy efficiency of tertiary buildings in a short time frame. They will have to cut consumption by 40% by 2030, then by 50% in 2040 and by 60% ten years later. In the exhibition sector, we are talking only about cinemas with an area of ​​more than 1000 square meters, that is, about half of a French park.

“Extraordinary value!”

Easier said than done. Many downtown businesses, including art house cinemas, are housed in old energy-intensive buildings that are sometimes difficult to retrofit. In Orléans, Michel Ferry knows his movie theater needs improvement, especially in terms of insulation. But deciding on a job is not so easy. “Nobody wants to close down to make them because we’re in a very tough competitive situation. Besides, I’m the tenant of the building, so we’ll have to convince the owner, then take everything on my account under rent exemption.” lists a Carmelite director whose building dates back to the 1950s.

The task is further complicated when the establishments have heritage value, as many of the cinemas in the Utopia chain do. Thanks to the 80-centimeter-thick stone walls in Avignon, located in the former armory of the Papal Palace, there is no need to worry about thermal insulation. Referring to other works, Sophie Zamichei clarifies: “The primary purpose of our buildings is not cinema. So we can’t blow up walls to put up new ones. We work with what we already have. »

Utopia of Avignon.

Utopia of Avignon.

Photo by Daniele Schneider/Photononstop

Added to these problems is the issue of funding. Deeply weakened for two years, between the health crisis and an alarming drop in attendance, most theaters simply don’t have the wherewithal anymore, especially when it comes to replacing projectors. About ten years after the transition to digital television, movie theaters were equipped with xenon projectors, a noxious gas that required air-conditioned rooms. In addition, they require regular replacement of expensive parts. The CNC audit recommends replacing them with laser projectors, which are more energy efficient and last longer. “Exorbitant cost! – exclaims Jean-Sylvain Minsain. If CNC would provide an assistance system for the transition to lasers, as it helped movie theaters a decade ago for the digital transition, we would jump at the chance. » At the Le Loft cinema, whose revenue has halved in 2021, Marie-Christine Desandre was able to change only one of the seven projectors at her disposal. “We will need financial support from CNC. We no longer have that capacity to borrow from banks. »

However, this funding is not on the agenda. “Unfortunately, we no longer have budget funds that would allow us to publicize such a relief plan as we did in 2010.” regrets Lionel Bertine. So how can cinemas invest in their own green transition? The CNC is currently working on this issue and plans to make its selective aid (subject to the committee’s review of the file) eligible for costs related to energy conservation for small and medium-sized farms. This also applies to the financing of local authorities, “quasi-systematic” according to him.

The vagaries of help

Municipalities, community communities, metropolises, departments, regions… All local levels have the opportunity to support cinemas. For its part, Le Bretagne cinema, an associative single-screen cinema located in the heart of Saint-Rénan (Finister), boasts the benevolence of the local authorities. “Our room is under construction. Soon we will have a VMC with two-flow ventilation and other elements that will allow us to become an eco-responsible facility.” rejoices its programmer Maksym Iffur. The City Hall supports the work by helping with various funding, the most important of which comes from the Brittany region and the state through the allocation of equipment for rural areas (DETR). But not all local authorities are equally keen on these issues. In Pont-Sainte-Marie, Anne Faucon is still waiting for a response from the Grand Est region more than two years after the launch of her environmentally responsible film project. “That’s why I turned to crowdfunding and to Europe through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF),” she explains.

Brittany, Saint Renan, Finisterre.

Brittany, Saint Renan, Finisterre.

Photo by Cinema Le Bretagne

Knowing that all this assistance requires the development of sound files and the contribution of their own funds, some operators give up. “We would really like to think about a building that consumes less energy and apply for help from CNC, but it requires a lot of research and therefore a lot of costs.” condolences to Matthias Schuker in Dijon. In the meantime, cinemas themselves make their own contribution to energy saving through daily actions. In Nîmes and Avignon, we turn off the air conditioning and air it out. At Chatellerault, the HVAC start-up is adjusted daily according to the outside temperature. CNC says cinemas will get an interesting return on investment by funding their green transition. “That will be for the next team, not sure if I’m still in charge! » half-joking Mathias Shuker. His account is dry.

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