Rue Daubenton is crowded before the sun rises.

The La Clef Revival

cinema opens

its doors at six o'clock, at this time for almost two weeks.

Films don't even start before dawn at the big festivals.

Since January 31, this cinema has been on the brink: according to official decree, the police could arrive at any moment to evacuate the cultural site.

Since September 2019, a collective has occupied the cinema in Paris' Latin Quarter, in the middle of the fifth arrondissement.

In 1973,

La Clef

was founded by a private individual in the aftermath of May '68, a small house with a white key on a red house front.

In 1981 the cinema was sold to the works councils of the large banking group Caisse d'épargne.

From this point on, clubs and festivals design the program together and focus on African, South American, Asian and Caribbean films.

In 2018 the place will close and is set to be sold to the social enterprise Groupe SOS after two attempts by the former owner and staff to buy the cinema.

The SOS group is led by Jean-Marc Borello, number two in Macron's La République en marche party.

In September 2019, students, cinephiles, political activists and film professionals banded together to occupy the house on rue Daubenton, henceforth calling it

La Clef Revival


Pauline Delfino, who has been part of the core team since last summer, says that since then, a film has been on every night at eight o'clock except during the lockdown period.

Tickets are available on a donation basis.

“Culture abhors the void”

Around forty people are part of the Home Cinema association, plus around seventy volunteers, currently around a hundred, who keep the place constantly running.

One group takes turns staying at the cinema each night.

A Thursday evening in early February is the eleventh day of the unscheduled film festival.

As the eviction drew closer,

La Clef

switched to survival mode: three to four films are shown every day, the entire program that was planned for the next month.

At 6 a.m. there are croissants, coffee and the first screening.

The doors are open all day.

In the afternoon it usually empties a bit, says Pauline Delfino.

When the hustle and bustle dies down, the team holds its organizational meetings.

Afterwards: next film or a debate with invited guests, program again in the evening.

Many come to present their films themselves, often late into the night.

A banner on the wall of the house reads “La culture a horreur du vide” – “Culture abhors emptiness”.

The third film to be screened this evening is “Water Lilies” by Céline Sciamma.

Groups of people are standing in front of the entrance and smoking, on a corner Taddeo Reinhardt, who is visiting the cinema that evening, says about the film the next day: "I can't watch 'Demoiselles de Rochefort' without crying." Another Crowds are waiting at the entrance for Sciamma and Adèle Haenel, one of the main actresses.

The rush is huge: In the Latin Quarter, the queue stretches around a corner and several streets, Reinhardt reports to this newspaper.

Within a few days, Claire Denis, Leos Carax, Wang Bing, Frederick Wiseman, Gisèle Vienne, Rebecca Zlotowski, Virgil Vernier, the united French cinema.

Radical cinema for a wide audience

During the first lockdown, which was particularly strict in Paris,

La Clef

soon played on the wall of his house.

The audience meets on the street and at a distance.

“We're trying to show radical cinema for a broad audience that suits the tastes of the fifty or so people who make the program.

We also never wanted to compete with the cinemas in the area.

That's why we're more likely to show the first film by a director whose latest film is showing in the big Parisian cinemas at the same time," says Pauline Delfino.

“All of a sudden cinema took on a different value.

When the city failed to exercise its right of first refusal three years ago,

La Clef

another small cinema.

Now it has a different radiance.

It's become a cultural hub.” Amidst the hustle and bustle, Leo, who is part of the association, reports: “You can't go to the movies at free prices anywhere else in Paris.” Pauline Delfino says that

La Clef

expanded over the years: two radio stations, a fanzine, studios for school children to teach pictures, a photo laboratory, a production studio, a residence for young filmmakers who are supported in writing and shooting through to post-production - a small utopia.

“The fact that young people, students and trainees have to find their way into the job market says a lot about the situation in France.

There is a shortage and this place partly fills it, as a network also for those who do not have access to the world of work.”

Around two months before the presidential election, the spirit of mobilization is particularly high.

La Clef

has also become a political cause.

Clearing out the last independent community cinema so the house can be sold would perhaps mean eliminating an icon.

The staff expects Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot to stand up for culture.

Until then, the collective will continue as before: the place, the cinema claim, for themselves and for the audience.