These are not like other screens.
When it comes to children's relationship with screens, it is important to remember than all screens are not the same so the same habits do not apply for all. While health professionals strongly recommend keeping children under 3 away from televisions, smartphones, tablets and computers, cinema theatres have specific characteristics that make them preferred and almost sacred places for discovering a cinematic work at any age. This is firstly because films are shown to audiences in the conditions for which they were created, both from a technical viewpoint and for the enjoyment of discovering something in a group. These screens show works that are different not only in terms of their end product but also in terms of the connection they want to make with the people discovering them. This "giant screen" can sometimes scare parents, who wrongly think they can cause even more harm to children's fragile eyes. But in a suitable theatre the screen is placed at a thoughtful and well calculated distance. The concept of time is also integral to this thinking. Because the show is a one-off event of limited duration, it is exceptional and thus a little celebratory, nothing to do with the overconsumption and trivialisation of pictures.
France is one of the best equipped countries in the world in terms of cinema theatres. With more than 1,300 arthouse cinemas, many of which make sincere efforts to appeal to young viewers, a trip to the cinema has become a custom enjoyed by a huge number of families.
The choice of films
These arthouse cinemas have for a long time strived to give young people as much help as possible as they discover cinema, and their work begins long before viewers arrive. It all starts with picking the films. When choosing a film programme for children, the aim is to educate and amaze, pitching shows that are suitable for the target ages. The programme can cover a wide range of films, from blockbusters to much cheaper and less publicised productions. The trick of the programmer's trade is to strike the perfect balance between stimulation and entertainment, enjoyment and learning. Programmers listen to their audience so that they can better meet their expectations and desires while ushering them towards deeper and more demanding discoveries that will not just entertain children but also help them to grow up and find their place in the world.
The first films we discover in the cinema leave an indelible mark. Similarly, the first experiences - good or bad - often condition the rest of our relationship with the seventh art. For a trip to the cinema to be a truly happy and unforgettable event, the right conditions must be in place. That means dimmed lights, booster seats and lowered volume for young viewers' first trips to the cinema, and a few words before the show to give them explanations that will enable them to understand the film better. The presentation can sometimes also help to prepare them for a work that may be a little "sensitive". This may seem trivial but it is actually essential for making sure that they get as much as possible out of their cinematic experience, particularly for youngsters coming to a cinema for the first time. Arthouse cinemas have introduced plenty of initiatives aimed at children from the age of 18 months or 2 years old. A prime example is the famous Tout Petit Cinéma festival in the Forum des Images in Paris, which is aimed at professionals working for young children.
Cultural mediation and film guidance
Arthouse cinemas aim to open young peoples' eyes, pass on an appreciation of cinema and teach them to become attentive and respectful viewers. To fulfil this mission, it is crucial to support viewers. These days more and more arthouse cinemas have a "young viewer manager" or cultural mediator in their teams. Their jobs involve helping children and their families, paying particular attention to the choice of film shown and the way viewers are received in the theatre. Young viewer managers are increasingly common and tend to make cinema theatres friendly and welcoming places where you can chat about culture. For children this guiding presence is reassuring and can encourage them to express their emotions after the films. Before screenings the manager acts as an advisor, informing them about the recommended age and suitability of films. When the show is over, all kinds of cultural and mediation activities are often offered: discussions and debates, workshops, taster sessions, meetings with directors and cinema professionals. It amounts to a veritable laboratory of knowledge and fun for children…
France is not only the founding country of the arthouse movement but also the first country in the world to have devised a real policy for educating young viewers with visual images and work. Most arthouse cinemas host national visual image education schemes (École et cinéma – created in 1994 and coordinated by the Les Enfants de Cinéma association, which now enable nearly one million children, high school students and apprentices to discover cinematic films).
The AFCAE (The French Association of Arthouse Cinemas) was established in 1955 by theatre managers and cinema critics. It is the umbrella organisation for a network of independent local cinemas and regional associations and every year it assigns 'young viewers' labels to hundreds of cinemas in France. This recognises the quality of their programming and their efforts to offer guidance to accompany the films shown.
Benshi is proud have more than 200 partner cinemas all over France, enabling us to help to promote their work for young viewers.