Rory Mulholland walks France’s new underground street “Rue du Cinema”, deep in the bowels of Les Halles.
Paris is about to get the world’s first “Cinema Street”, with Europe’s busiest cinema at one end, a major film library in the middle, and at the other end a revamped cinematheque that innovates the way viewers watch movies.
About the Forum des Images
The Forum des Images, as the cinematheque is called, is to reopen after three years of multi-million-euro renovations on Friday when Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe will officially rename an underground street the “Rue du Cinema”.
The Forum, best known internationally as the movie centre that launched the world’s first film festival for movies made on or for mobile phones, lies deep in the bowels of the historic centre of Paris known as Les Halles.
Cinema Street, one of the maze of streets that form a giant subterranean shopping mall, begins with the 16-screen UGC cinema multiplex, which with its three million punters a year makes it the top scorer in Europe.
Next is the brand-new Francois Truffaut library, whose collection boasts 17,000 books, including practically everything that has ever been written in French on the seventh art, and 10,000 DVDs for lending or in-house consultation.
And then comes the Forum, which claims to be unique in the world on two counts.
“This is the first time that a city has said to itself that its memory does not only exist in books but also in images,” said its director Laurence Herszberg.
“No city in the world and no capital in the world has like Paris built up a collection of thousands of films, exclusively films where the action takes place in Paris, which talk about Paris, which evoke Paris,” she said.
There are documentaries, fiction films, television ads and archive images among the collection of 5,500 films, which the Forum has just transferred to digital format at a cost of five million euros (6.4 million dollars).
The Forum’s other claim to innovation is the way visitors can view films they select from the extensive archives.
There are five standard screens catering for audiences of 30 to 450 people, but the centre’s unique selling point is its trendy viewing “lounge”, said Herszberg.
“Usually in video libraries everything is centred on individual consultation, each person is in a little box with a little screen to watch the film. But here we think that this should be an act of cinema,” she said.
In the dimly lit lounge, the black walls and roof are offset by red and pink sofas on each of which two head-phone wearing people can sit together and watch a movie on a small screen.
Lining the walls are a handful of alcoves with individual viewing stations. There are also two sections cordoned off by glass walls where up to seven people can book the space for a modest fee to together watch a film of their choice.
In total the lounge can cater for 80 people at a time, with a space where teachers can take their classes for lessons in cinema.
Education is another focus of the new Forum, which before it closed for renovation was getting 300,000 visitors a year. Cinema masterclasses are now to be delivered every month by a major figure from the world of celluloid.
James Gray, the US director of “Little Odessa”, “We Own The Night”, and most recently “Two Lovers”, will be the first to deliver a master class at the Forum this weekend.
Rushed Parisians will also be able to whisk into the Forum during their lunch break for a half-hour burst of cinema in the form of short films, after which they can lunch on Mediterranean cuisine in the centre’s brand new and very trendy cafe-restaurant.
Forum director Herszberg said a major advertising campaign has been launched to woo back the centre’s former clientele — who have not been able to visit during the renovation work that went a year and a half over schedule — and to win over new audiences.
As well as a street poster campaign, a 50-second film will be aired in Paris cinemas, made by Michel Gondry, the director of films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind”.
It is titled “The History of the Universe by Michel Gondry”, begins with the big bang and ends with the reopening of the Forum.