Small Cinemas, Big Impact: How Independent Theaters Are Shaping the Film Industry

Living Journalism

Small Cinemas, Big Impact: How Independent Theaters Are Shaping the Film Industry

Step into Prostějov's humble cinema, where the experience is all about the essence of the film. Here, there's no Dolby Atmos, no VIP seats, and no ostentatious gimmicks. Instead, this cinema offers something more authentic - a genuine passion for movies. This little cinema has struggled to keep its doors open for years, even failing to provide cinema-goers with the essential treat of popcorn and soda. But everything changed when new, younger management took the helm, determined to compete with more extensive and more established corporate cinemas.

Streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ have revolutionized the film industry. With their increasing popularity, these platforms pose a threat to the survival of traditional movie theaters. While this situation impacts larger corporations with multiple locations throughout Europe, smaller cinemas, whether independent or not, are the ones most affected.

This Friday evening, my friends Gabriela and Adam and I are thrilled to attend a special event at our local cinema. The event is called "Blind Cinema," and the cinema's Instagram post promises a unique and exciting experience for all. "Blind cinema is an event that anyone can attend. You come to the cinema and buy the ticket. However, your ticket is going to be for free,” says the Instagram post caption.

However, there is still hope. According to Cineuropa's report in 2022, there was a significant increase of 77.77% in the number of screenings and 88.97% in the number of theatergoers compared to the previous year. However, these numbers were primarily driven by the screening of US blockbusters. Hollywood continues to dominate movie theaters in the Czech Republic and throughout Europe.

As we enter the cinema, we can't help but admire the cozy, old-fashioned ambiance that permeates the room. The principle of the event is simple. We purchase tickets for free, without knowing the name of the movie beforehand. If we enjoy the film, we can stay and pay the ticket price afterward. But if we aren't pleased with the movie, we can leave within the first twenty minutes without paying a single koruna.

Film festivals such as the 30th Days of European Film showcase the exquisite beauty and diversity of European cinema in the Czech Republic. Our university's Scala Cinema has proudly served as one of the event's esteemed stages, alongside other renowned cities like Prague and Ostrava (as well as numerous smaller towns). These cultural events serve as a poignant reminder of the invaluable role that small cinemas play in enriching our society. Meanwhile, big movie theater corporations tend to avoid backing the losing horse.

The anticipation inside the cinema is palpable - a blend of nervous excitement and curiosity. Groups of people stand together, chatting and speculating about what movie they're about to watch. "I heard they showed 'Ocean's Eleven' last time. Can you believe it? It's my favorite movie, and I never thought I'd get to see it on the big screen!" exclaims a young man in a black jacket. The audience is soon hushed to silence as the lights dim and the opening credits start to roll. One of the organizers steps forward. "Today's movie is going to be a little offbeat, unexpected, and you'll learn how to order ice cream in Japanese," he says with a grin.

Small independent cinemas play a crucial role in shining the spotlight on indie artists and movies, in contrast to big franchise cinemas that prioritize mass-produced blockbusters. According to Barbora Golatova, one of the organizers, these cinemas are essential for bringing European cinema to a broader audience. “European cinema is full of topics which are really close to us ‘cause we live here, and we are similar. It is important for younger people who are usually at home watching Netflix to see movies you wouldn't see in a regular theatre,” she says.

And indeed, the movie is anything but conventional - 'Inherent Vice', a satirical take on the hippie movement that requires a certain level of knowledge on the topic. Despite this, the audience remains captivated throughout the screening, even those who were initially lost. The thrill of watching a movie without knowing anything about it is just too exhilarating. The cinema is also making other significant changes to keep up with more prominent, corporate cinema companies. One of the changes is the establishment of new social media accounts to attract younger audiences. The cinema's Instagram page now features daily, weekly, and monthly reminders of the upcoming program and special events, making it easier to stay updated and in the loop.

Moreover, independent cinemas are particularly vital in smaller cities, where access to art and culture can be limited. The film, being a universal language, has the power to convey diverse cultures, languages, and perspectives around the world. "All European movies are art; for example, watching a beautiful Italian movie can inspire you to visit the country," adds Golatova. In essence, independent cinemas serve as a bridge between cultures and enable us to explore and appreciate the richness of the world through the lens of film.

Another significant change is the addition of the Cinema café in the lobby. Here, visitors can grab a coffee, beer, popcorn, or even a piece of cake and take it with them to the screening room. Who wouldn't want to sip a cold beer while enjoying a movie? These small changes may seem insignificant, but they go a long way in creating a welcoming and inviting atmosphere for everyone. As we walk away, I feel grateful for the small, independent cinema in our town, and for the new experiences it's brought us. I sincerely hope that once again we can see herds of people in the cinemas, bringing it back to life. Netflix is fun, but it can never beat the true experience of a cinema.​​​​​​​

Credits: Used for educational purposes.

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