La Clef Survival

6 March, 2022

I found out about cinema La Clef from my friend Miruna at the beginning of 2020, when I was just moving to Paris to study at the Sorbonne on a scholarship. I was living just five minutes away from it, so I quickly made a habit of going downstairs every evening to catch the eight o’clock screening. I wasn’t really sure what à prix libre meant, so in the beginning, I’d also leave some Romanian coins in their donation box at the entrance. Then, the pandemic arrived and I had to move out of the neighborhood, but I came back as soon as the confinement was over, sometime in May, with the goal of seeing at least two to three films a week until the end of the summer (which I did). After the first waves of the pandemic, I was in Bucharest for a short period of time, and then in Venice, only for me to return to Paris. I joined the La Clef Revival collective as a volunteer in October 2021, on a Wednesday, when the regular meetings are scheduled, and it was only then that I gradually started to understand what was actually behind our peaceful occupation. I had some calmer days, in which I found out how the association functions, about our partnership with the schools in the neighborhood for the ”La petite évasion” workshop dedicated to children, and about Studio 34, the independent laboratory that acts as a production company for young filmmakers. I spent many hours at La Clef at reunions and screenings, the morning of my birthday, Christmas Eve and Evening, and I even ended up curating a couple of screenings (The Applause Man by Ruben Vermeersch, Acasă, My Home by Radu Ciorniciuc, Les sorcières de l’Orient by Julien Farault și Belladonna of Sadness by Eiichi Yamamoto). Throughout this entire time, the so-called SOS Associated Group was threatening the collective that it would be evacuated from its building, which was owned by the Caisse d’Epargne Ile de France bank. An event which came to pass on the 1st of March 2022, but the mobilization goes on, with our plan to buy Cinema La Clef through the Revival fund. Personally, I still have my copy of the key which opens the door to Rue Daubenton 34, an upcoming screening of Fabrizio Terranova’s Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival in expectancy, as well as a cute ongoing correspondence with Flavia Dima. 

Text Message | Tuesday 6h20 

LA CLEF REVIVAL IS BEING EVACUATED!! We need people on the ground at Daubenton 34! Vital mobilization is needed to save the last associative cinema in Paris. Peaceful protesting, no violence, no rioting. Come with your video and photo cameras! The occupiers of La Clef Revival

Text Message | Tuesday 16h49 

Following the evacuation that took place this morning, please come to peacefully manifest your solidarity with La Clef Revival TONIGHT AT 18H, ON THE PLATFORM IN FRONT OF THE ARAB WORLD INSTITUTE! The persistent police presence in front of the cinema is preventing us from gathering there. Pass the news on and come in numbers as large as possible. THANK YOU

La Clef Revival

The small neighborhood cinema La Clef in Paris has been evicted 

This morning (1st of March) at around 6, law enforcement officers evicted the collective that was peacefully occupying the Parisian cinema La Clef Revival. Without any prior warning, the police (CRS) entered the building in the fifth arrondissement of Paris, on Rue Daubenton, and blocked access to it, thus effectively ending the two and a half years of activism and volunteering in the name of a free, self-generated and fully accessible culture. The approximately 15 occupants that were inside quickly took their personal belongings and a couple of posters that were hanging in the hallway, some plants, the donation box and a few film reels as the gendarmes were forcing the door (everything else had been removed in the prior weeks). In less than half an hour, they left the building one by one, without resisting, to the overwhelming applause of the audience that had come to see a screening of Cleo de la 5 la 7 (r. Agnès Varda, 1962) and had been evacuated to the neighboring Rue Monge. Also in the surroundings of the cinema, une vingtaine of lorries packed with armed gendarmes ready to mount an intervention  “just like in the movies” were starting to gather, to prepare for the very unlikely scenario in which the situation would escalate. Instead of the doorknob, the door to the cinema’s lateral entrance was covered by an A4 black and white leaflet that warned any people that entering the building was a crime from now one, and that it will be sanctioned in accordance with the law. The live recording of the eviction can be watched on the La Clef Revival Instagram page.

The Cinéma Revival fund

The current situation is critical, but the fight that begun in September 2019 and the gigantic mobilization of the past five weeks managed to open up a major breakthrough: the SOS Group announced that it will no longer renew its promise to buy the building. An important victory against the commercialisation of culture and of the attempt to appropriate an independent project in the most neoliberal of logics. As a consequence, the La Clef Revival collective announced that it will keep on fighting to regain the cinema. “We are still prepared to buy the building. Our plan remains the same, we want this project to become a common good and a truly collective space, given to those who frequent and use it, through the fund that we created to achieve this end, Cinéma Revival. Simultaneously, they are calling upon the public authorities to ask the owner of the building, the CSE Caisse d’Epargne Ile de France bank, to accept entering a dialogue with the occupants of La Clef, which they have refused up until now.

The conflict with the so-called “associative” SOS Group. Cap ou pas cap? 

Pas cap. With a turnover worth over one billion euros, the SOS association is a symbol for the commercialization of independent associative initiatives in France. Their incursion into the cultural milieu is however relatively recent. Before the La Clef Revival collective was served with an evacuation notice, the SOS Group had vaguely formulated a couple of intentions for the cinema’s future, claiming that they would guarantee its total freedom, but without taking on any legal obligations towards this end. Even so, given the intense media focus on the situation, they came back to La Clef in February with a recovery plan, through which they appropriated a good part of the activities that the collective had already put into practice in its two and a half years of peaceful occupation. In the few pages that it quite probably scribbled in a hurry, SOS promised an independent non-profit project, a selection of rare and fragile films, as well as a special focus on the works of young filmmakers, the creation of a debate space, and so on. However, on the very day of the eviction, the SOS Group announced its intention to renounce the project and is no longer interested in buying the building. But the problem of this so-called associative group goes beyond the case of the small Parisian cinema. Freshly and forcefully relocated en plein air, the La Clef Revival collective holds firm its position towards “savior”-type cultural entrepreneurship initiatives akin to those orchestrated by the SOS Group, and wants to organize a series of round tables on the topic of the increasing commodification of culture as soon as possible.

The first week of Portes ouvertes 24/24

Towards the end of January, there were all sorts of information circulating around the Latin Quarter regarding the imminent evacuation, and the news that „le jour J de l’expulsion” was inching closer was being confirmed and then contradicted by the day, in an attempt to discourage the La Clef Revival collective. The week of 24/24 open doors at the cinema roused a lot of spirits in the neighborhood. The mornings began in full force, with cafe, croissants (or pains au chocolat) and a 6 a.m. screening. All along the course of the day, the common spaceturned into an open space for anyone who wanted to work à distance. In the evenings, worried about the fate of La Clef, film industry professionals and academics, journalists and volunteers took the stand at the Open Tribune that started at 7 p.m., attended by large audiences. Having turned into a battlefield over the last two years, La Clef remains a meeting point where cultural and political debates take place. Followed by the double bill at 8:30 p.m., running in parallel at the cinema’s two screening halls, sometimes attended by the filmmakers who helmed the works. Whoever couldn’t catch a seat inside would stay behind for a discussion autour d’un verre.   

One month of intra-muros mobilisation

Despite all expectations, the determination of the cinephile community (active members, volunteers, audience) was intact throughout the five following weeks. More than 7000 spectators visited the cinema in February, and over 4500 left their phone numbers to be notified in the highly probable event of a police intervention, thus manifesting their wish to quickly join an in situ peaceful protest. The audience’s constant presence discouraged police intervention, however, the threat of eviction remained valid. On the inside, the internal mobilization protocol was rigorous. All wake up at 5 a.m., someone has to make coffee, another goes for croissants, another turns on the projectors, another opens the doors to the audience. More than 200 volunteers reshaped the collective’s common agenda, with uninterrupted shifts during day- and nighttime. La Clef was starting to resemble a “permanent festival”. People were coming and going between the common area (which was wide open to the public), the reception, bar, screening both, the two cinema halls and the kitchen, where a geniune “pôle” of chef volunteers was preparing lunches and dinners (délicieux !!!). In any case, there was always something to do: to free up the common space for the Tribune, to edit the list of signatures, to set up meetings with journalists, to clean up the sleeping quarters, to handle 35 mm rolls, to arrange the hard disks sent in by distributors, to mail back DCPs, to make playlists for future screenings, and so on. The sound tests were mostly done right before the dodo.  

Common area from La Clef, lunch mobilization and reunion. Tribună Liberă place behind. Photo by: Tatiana Moise

The efforts of the La Clef Revival community were immediately echoed in the local press and, in extenso, amongst filmmakers from across the entire world. On the 31st of Jauary, Libération was already publishing a partial list of the supporters of La Clef Revival, and mentioning, amongst others, filmmakers such as Céline Sciamma, Claire Denis, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Leos Carax. Claire Simone, Nicolas Klotz, Jean-Pierre Thorn, Denis Lavant and Agnès b. Were amongst those who personally sent texts that encouraged the occupants of La Clef, a symbolic locus for the independent culture of France.

„But the owner of the building still refuses to listen. He refuses to see the dozens of people waking up at sunrise, the hundreds of volunteers, the thousands of spectators and supporters. He only sees the millions of Euros that the SOS  Group has thrown into play, lacking any clear commitment to maintain La Clef as a cinema, not to mention one that is independent, self-run, with a unique and collective curatorial program and whose screenings are running at prices that are accessible to all. The owner obstinately refuses to meet us, despite the fact that we have a serious project to take over the building, which is the only one who could further the activities that we began two and a half years ago.” (quote from a news release of the collective)

Independent curatorial program, screenings à prix libre

For over five weeks, the occupants of La Clef Revival (both active members and volunteers) co-opted local and international distributors, filmmakers and actors that were willing to screen their films for free and to even attend said screenings, as a showing of solidarity for the peaceful occupation. The curatorial program that lasted throughout the mobilisation, always à prix libre, started with the carte blanche Leos Carax (who was present at La Clef), who chose Une Chambre en ville by Jacques Demy. The carte blanche Agnès b. and Another Gaze followed, along with many randomized screenings, ranging from the short films of Agnès Varda, to Aguirre, the Wrath of God by Werner Herzog, Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki, Paris Is Burning by Jennie Livingston (introduced by Gisèle Vienne and Adèle Haenel), Go Fish by Rose Troche, Naissance des pieuvres by Céline Sciamma (in the presence of the director, together with Adèle Haenel and Pauline Acquart), The Walking Eye by Wang Bing (in the presence of the director), US Go Home by Claire Denis, Juvenile court by Frederick Wiseman (in the presence of the director), and even the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 35mm screenings and two crossover events with cinemas Vidéodrome2 (Marsilia) and Cinéma Nova (Bruxelles). 

Kyiv bombarded, Paris hosts the César awards

At the César Awards ceremony, one the second day of the War in Ukraine, French film professionals showed their symbolic support for La Clef by wearing key-shaped brooches (which were created by the Revival collective, itself). A few of them took the chance of being onstage to salute the occupiers that are guarding the last independent associative cinema in Paris.

Nelly Quettier, the César Awards for Best Editing – Annette (r.  Leos Carax).

La Clef Revival resists, the mobilization goes on hors les murs 

Pour remonter le moral, the cinephile community surrounding La Clef has created a series of #copyfight edits, which are a few short, informative videos that are screened before the films, which discuss the cinema’s recent history and poke fun at the SOS Group. Trailer 2022 LA CLEF CINEMA REVIVAL presents the numbers of the past two and a half years of peaceful occupation, as the collective will keep on going with its actions and events in other friendly spaces in Paris and its surroundings until it will be able to return to Rue Daubenton nr. 34.   

Vive La Clef, haut les cœurs !





Cover photo: À La Clef, Cinéma de quartier, Quartier général (r. Basile Trouillet, 2022)

Main photo: screening of Go Fish (d. Rose Troche, 1994), by Thomas Muñoz

Author profile photo: drawing-portrait by Mona Lébontuyaux





Tatiana Moise is an alumn of UNARTE Bucharest's department of History and Theory of Arts, and is an independent art worker. She is working on a research proposal about the video installations of Chantal Akerman at the Sorbonne and is a French teacher in her spare time. She wishes she could be a vegan, but is much rather a vegetarian.