Here at ÉCU, we really do have a strong appreciation for independent film, and not only when it comes to our festival. Even in our day-to-day lives, we are always looking for the best that independent cinema has to offer. And where better to do that than… independent cinemas! Come join us as we embark on a journey getting to know some of the best independent cinemas that Paris has to offer…
Where better to start than the oldest existing cinema in Paris? The Cinéma du Panthéon was opened in 1907 and, already back then, it was buzzing with intellectuals and lovers of the newly born ‘7th art’. After being bought in 1929 by the film producer Pierre Braunberger, who modernised the cinema both equipment-wise and content-wise, the real golden age began. In 1930 the Ernst Lubitsch film Love Parade inaugurated the reborn cinema. At the time, Ciné Panthéon was one of only a few theatres to start screening films in their original language.
Since its inception, the cinema has served as a place for debates and ciné-club meetings, and was a hot spot among Sorbonne students, New Wave directors and nostalgia-hunters. A great amount of 20th century cultural personalities were frequent visitors, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Prévert, amongst others.
Nowadays, the cinema is run by Why Not Productions,an association which produces films made by prominent independent filmmakers, including Arnaud Desplechin and Philippe Garrel. The cinema continues to run ciné-clubs and, although its film selection is rather small, here quality trumps quantity. Last but not least: make sure to arrive early when visiting in order to chill in the Tea Salon, which is designed and decorated by none other than Catherine Deneuve herself.
13 rue Victor Cousin, 75005, Paris
M : Cluny-La Sorbonne (10)
Le Grand Rex opened its doors nearly 100 years ago, in 1932. And oh, what an opening it was: an orchestra and 80 doorman welcomed 3,300 fancy guests in this splendid art deco building! The next day all the press headlines were gushing about this glorious cinema temple. However, despite the huge success, owner Jacques Haïk was forced to file for bankruptcy and Le Grand Rex was purchased by Gaumont. The cinema has since undergone several changes in ownership and survived many difficult periods—during the Second World War (until Paris was liberated from the Nazis), soldiers would gather here to watch propaganda films.
Yet, despite the many upheavals and historical storms, Le Grand Rex has lost none of its splendour. The huge screening hall seats 2,800 people and houses the Rex Club nightclub in its basement. Nowadays, the programme is quite commercial, but the cinema remains independently owned. In the last 15 years alone, Le Grand Rex has had the honour of welcoming prominent directors and actors, and premiering their films (Chicago, Kill Bill, The Last Samurai, Casino Royale, The Artist etc.). Here, cinema is the king, and if you want to feel like you are in a palace, this is the place for you!
1 Boulevard Poissonnière, 75002 Paris
M : Bonne Nouvelle (8, 9)
Owned by the silent era French actor Max Linder, this cinema opened in 1914. Now this historical cinema has gained a new, more modern look with a panoramic screen, velvet seating and surround sound (THX). The programme offers both international blockbusters and auteur cinema. Although Max Linder screens such big international hits (currently Ad Astra and, soon, Joker), the cinema is selective about mainstream films. And besides, if you are going to see a Hollywood blockbuster, you might as well do it in this legendary screening room with 3 floors – L’orchestre, La mezzanine and Le balcon.
24 Boulevard Poissonnière, 75009 Paris
M: Grands Boulevards (8, 9)
Studio 28 opened in 1928 and was the first avant-garde cinema in Paris. Soon enough it became the place to be for poets, artists, directors and the avant-garde-loving public. Jean Cocteayu counted himself among the great admirers of this small cinema, hidden in Montmartre’s labyrinthine streets, and Luis Bunuel’s highly controversial film L’Age d’or premiered here in 1930. In 1959 the cinema became the first cinema in France to introduce a fidelity card system.
Fun fact: Amelie Poulain is quite fond of this movie theatre. Audrey Tautou’s character prefers to watch movies in this particular screening hall, and Studio 28 even produced special cinema tickets for the filming.
If you are going to a movie at Studio 28, come early and enjoy the charming tea terrace, the walls of which are covered with photos of Jean Marais, Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve and other legendary actors and actresses.
10 Rue Tholozé, 75018 Paris
M: Blanche (2) ; Abbesses (12)
L’Etna is not really a cinema hall, but rather an experimental cinema workshop, which organises different film events. A communal space, L’Etna is run by filmmakers and other analogue media enthusiasts. When you step into this studio, you really do feel the deep appreciation for experimental film and analogue media – here you can find montage desks, film rolls, passionate filmmakers and the unmistakable smell of coffee and cigarettes. Going against the hegemony of digital cinema, members of Etna believe that analogue film is not a medium of the past. It is very much alive and kicking.
It is worth following their event calendar (on their website and Facebook page). L’Etna’s events offer screenings of experimental films made by their members and collaborators, as well as meetings and gatherings.
71 rue Robespierre, 93100 Montreuil
M: Robespierre (9)
An independent cinema with a truly turbulent past, La Clef opened in 1990. After almost twenty years of screening films, the cinema closed in 2009 before re-opening shortly afterwards in 2010. However, La Clef was soon closed again in 2018 following the sale of the building in 2015. The cinema was recently re-opened yet again on 20th September 2019 thanks to the initiative of a group of employees who launched a crowd-funding project in order to prevent La Clef from falling apart.
In the beginning, La Clef focused on African cinema (Souleymane Cissé, Youssef Chahine). Today, their programme remains original and independent to its core, offering films from all across the world, retrospections and thematic screenings.
34 rue Daubenton, 75005 Paris
M : Censier-Daubenton (7)
One of the most famous cinemas in Paris today, Le Champo opened in 1938, replacing an old bookshop. It quickly gained a large student following and in 1941 saw the installation of an innovative and unprecedented ‘rétro-réflex’ projection system, in which the image is reflected onto the screen via a mirror. Partnered with education institutions and with a focus on engaging young people in cinema, Le Champo prides itself on its recommendations from films legends such as the late Agnès Varda and Claude Chabrol.
Like several of the cinemas in the Latin Quarter, Le Champo now has two screens, one below the other, with each capable of seating around 120 people. The cinema is known for its retrospectives of renowned directors and actors from all over the world: think Ingmar Bergman, Yasujirō Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, John Cassavetes; as well as showing a range of classic and cult films, and the occasional contemporary offering. Usually open from around 12pm, Le Champo is also well-known for its through-the-night movie marathons.
51 rue des Ecoles, 75005 Paris
M: Cluny-La Sorbonne (10) ; Odéon (4, 10) ; Maubert-Mutualité (10)
Previously known as Quartier Latin, La Filmo was bought by Jean-Max Causse in 2005 following disagreements with his co-founding partner of the Action Cinéma group.
With its ornate baroque interior (fitted with gold tulip lamps!) but equipped with 4K high-definition capability, La Filmo has two of the more unusual cinema screens in Paris. Named after two of Hollywood’s biggest female stars, its screens Marilyn (the red one) and Audrey (the blue one) seat 97 and 60 people respectively.
Since its relaunch in 2006, the cinema has also undertaken a secondary role, under the name Ciné Sorbonne, in promoting and restoring cinematographic heritage, and distributing classic films to French cinemas.
The cinema usually opens at around 1.30pm and shows a vast range of films from classic to cult films. Its schedule regularly offers genre-themed programmes (think westerns or films noirs) alongside short director retrospectives and a couple of (usually newly-restored) ‘films of the week’. La Filmo often also plays host to a programme of engaging nightly cinema ‘lessons’ by a film specialist, focussing on a small selection of films of a particular theme.
9 rue Champollion, 75005 paris
M: Cluny-La Sorbonne (10) ; Odéon (4, 10) ; Maubert-Mutualité (10)
Sandwiched between Le Champo and La Filmo, Le Reflet Médicis is found on the rue Champollion, a street once famous for its theatres. Among the stars to have made their stage debuts in what has now become Le Reflet are Gérard Philippe, Max Jacob and Maria Casarès. The cinema forms part of the Ecrans de Paris group—alongside L’Arlequin, L’Escurial, Majestic Bastille and Majestic Passy—and has three screens, the largest of which can seat up to 150 people and the smallest of which contains a strange but endearing ‘stained-glass window’.
More so than its neighbours, Le Reflet Médicis has a strong focus onworld cinema, both classic and contemporary, and also shows contemporary documentaries from all over the world. The cinema has a broad range of programmes, from mini-retrospectives of lesser-known world cinema directors, to its ‘Un Certain Regard’ series of award-winning films, old and new, from the Cannes film festival.
3 rue Champollion, 75005 Paris
M: Cluny-La Sorbonne (10) ; Odéon (4, 10) ; Maubert-Mutualité (10)
Home to ÉCU – The European Independent Film Festival, Les 7 Parnassiens has, you guessed it, seven screens, all of which range in size from 30 to 250 seats. The grande salle is a neatly equipped with a stage area while the reception/art gallery area has space for 180 people, making it the perfect venue for our festival! Its programme focusses on contemporary cinema from around the world (usually the latest films from Europe and the US, with a smattering of world cinema works). The cinema also offers special programmes, such as its current (at the time of writing) series of Brazilian shorts.
98 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014 Paris
M: Vavin (4) ; Edgar Quinet (6) ; Montparnasse Bienvenue (4, 6, 12) ; Notre Dame Des Champs (13)
Following restructuring work in 1977, two cinemas were formed out of an old bookshop and a travel agency. The premises was originally split into two screens, with one specifically dedicated to recovered US films, before they united under one name in 1982 as part of the Action Cinéma group.
Bought by cinema legend Jean-Pierre Mocky in 2011, the cinema was renamed Le Desperado, with a large proportion of its programme soon dedicated to classic French film and the owner’s own works.
In 2017, Ronald Chammah, producer, director and owner of Christine 21, took over the cinema, and renamed it Écoles 21. Recently renovated, the cinema has two similarly-sized screens which seat 90 and 110 people.
Écoles 21 now has a conjoined programme with its sister cinema Christine 21. Each cinema has a themed programme of old, restored films, usually based around a particular genre, director, actor or country, with different films shown from one day to the next. The Écoles 21 programme is split into two halves, with one screen featuring French-language films and the other English-language films. In addition to this, the cinema offers a selection of night screenings—based around a similar theme, these are usually either longer films or films of a more mature nature (think horror, violence, thrillers…).
23 rue des Ecoles, 75005 Paris
M: Maubert-Mutualité (10) ; Cardinal Lemoine (10)
Once upon a time a ‘Real Tennis’ (Jeu de paume) court, the premises was also used as a space for the États Généraux to hold public meetings until the Revolution. After briefly turning into a theatre in the early 20th century, before which it also played host to a popular ball during the 1800s, it finally became a one-screen cinema under the name of Le Meliès. Other name changes followed (Le Celtic, Le Jean Cocteau) before the Action Cinéma group bought and renamed it in 1980. The cinema has changed hands again since, but kept its name: Le Grand Action.
With 35mm, 70mm and 2K digital capabilities, Le Grand Action is now a two-screen cinema. Its screens are named after surrealist painter Henri Ginet and celebrated film archivist and ultimate cinephile Henri Langlois (check out his gravestone in Montparnasse cemetery!), and have capacities of 99 and 233 spectators respectively. Its programme is perhaps more mainstream than other independent cinemas in the Latin Quarter, and ranges from classic to contemporary, with a focus on French and Hollywood releases.
5 rue des Ecoles, 75005 Paris
M: Cardinal Lemoine (10) ; Jussieu (7, 10)
My personal favourite (Steven). Steeped in history and situated down a small side street, opposite quite a swanky hotel and restaurant, Christine 21 could easily be missed, especially if you were to arrive before its 2pm opening. Formerly part of the Action Cinéma group and now partnered with the aforementioned Écoles 21, the cinema is a favourite of American crime writer James Ellroy (The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential) and neighbours the house in which Gertrude Stein lived and kept her valuable art collection during WWII, from 1938 until her death in 1946.
A plaque outside the cinema reads: ‘In this building lived Denis Allain, physician to Louis XIV, and in 1780 Jean-Louis Carnot, Naval and Artillery Commissioner in Toulon. The 17th century carriage entrance is listed and appears on the register of historical monuments.’
Nowadays, the cinema consists of two screens, one below the other. Its programme is in the same vein as that of its sister cinema Écoles 21: a split programme of old, restored films based on a couple of themes (genre, director, actor, country…), with a selection of night screenings and ciné-club offerings. While the Écoles 21 programme is more committed to always offering a selection of old French-language films, Christine 21 tends to show more vintage American films, but also offers French-language or even Italian-language selections from time to time.
4 rue Christine, 75006 Paris
M: Odéon (4,10) ; Mabillon (4) ; Saint-Michel Notre-Dame (4) Saint-Germain-des-Prés (4)
By Līga Požarska & Steven Evans