The film industry in France, referred to as le Septième Art, has had a leading role in French cultural heritage ever since the Lumière brothers held their first screening of projected motion pictures in the late 19th century. The prestigious Cannes Film Festival is only one of over fifty annual festivals in France devoted to film as an art form. Paris has the highest number of movie theaters per resident than any other European capital and ticket sales in France are the fourth highest in the world. Obviously, even in the age of streaming, going out to le cinema remains extremely popular. However, people who are “differently-abled” are often denied the simple pleasure of an outing to the movies with family and friends. Most theaters in Paris were built before accessibility standards were in place, making it difficult for people with reduced mobility. The traditional viewing experience can be overwhelming for people with sensory issues. Accompanying someone whose appearance or behavior might disturb others in the audience can be uncomfortable.
Ciné-ma différence teams up with movie theaters to make accommodations so that people with special needs may go to the movies in a relaxed non-judgmental atmosphere. The Association was started ten years ago by concerned parents with firsthand knowledge of how a leisurely activity can easily turn into an ordeal. Spoiler Alert! This is not an autism specific event: the non-profit’s mission is to remedy social exclusion by making the seventh art accessible and inclusive for everyone. At Ciné-ma différence film screenings, the general public is invited to enjoy a movie alongside people having any type of disability. The short video above gives a poignant example of how exposure to the arts allows one to dream beyond his limitations. It is also a reminder of the necessity for social integration and acceptance to imagine the possibilities.
What to expect at a Ciné-ma différence screening
Trained volunteers wearing yellow vests ensure that all spectators, with or without a handicap, feel welcome and safe. At the theater’s entrance, they greet everyone and offer a brochure describing the particularities of the séance (screening) to newcomers. Assistance is provided to anyone who needs help getting settled in their seat or has any requests. Before the film begins, a short animated video explains the unique needs of some members of the audience. Also, a person from Ciné-ma différence gives a short introduction to the concept behind the special screenings that puts everyone at ease. Other than that, there are no commercials or trailers before the film. The movie’s volume is lower and the theater lights dim progressively until completely turned off, unlike the sensory-friendly screenings we attended in the U.S. where lights are left on low. However, volunteers are equipped with a flashlight to accompany anyone who needs to move around or leave the dark theater during the film.
The programming at Ciné-ma différence offers enough variety to please cinéphiles of all ages. Whether you love American blockbusters, French indie, cartoons or classics, the choice of quality movies caters to all interests. This is important for those of us whose teen or young adult children with disabilities would like to see a movie with their friend among an audience their own age. Visit their website (in English) by clicking on the icon to the left. There you will find the complete list of movies, dates, showtimes, price, directions and other useful information. You can also make a reservation to ensure you have a seat, or have a group, or if you would like special assistance. Anglophones should be aware that all movies are dubbed in French. This doesn’t seem to bother our son who will watch a movie in any language with equal enthusiasm.
Where to find a theater that has Ciné-ma différence screenings
As of this writing, there are two theaters in Paris, eight in the Parisian suburbs, 48 in France and a few in Belgium too. The demand for séance Ciné-ma différence sensory-friendly screening is constantly increasing so be sure check out their website or Facebook page for updates. Of the two places in Paris, Le Chaplin Denfert in the 14th arrondissment (Metro Denfert-Rochereau)has a Saturday afternoon screening once a month and Le Majestic Passy in the 16th (Metro Passy) has a Sunday late morning screening also once a month. Both are neighborhood theaters, smaller than the American multiplex venues but having a huge advantage: that of instilling a sense of community. At each of these theaters, I noticed that audience members, with or without handicap, were regulars. The volunteers in recognizable yellow vests greeted everyone warmly and smiles were returned on the way out with a familiar au revoir see you again soon.