European cultural community protests the closing of Zagreb's Kino Europa
- After the City of Zagreb decided not to extend the Zagreb Film Festival’s contract for Kino Europa, support for the organisation is pouring in from the region and from European institutions
Zagreb's Kino Europa, the city's and country's premium arthouse cinema, which has been run successfully for the last ten years by the Zagreb Film Festival (ZFF), headed by producer Boris T Matić, is set to close on 1 June. This decision came with no prior warning two weeks ago, when the City of Zagreb and its mayor, Milan Bandić, declared the move, citing necessary renovations to the historical building built in 1925, without even offering its current management the option to extend the contract.
The City of Zagreb acquired the cinema in October 2007 after a successful action by the ZFF and Croatian film clubs association “Daj mi kino” (“Give Me the Cinema”). In 2008, the management of the theatre was entrusted to the ZFF, with the goal of making the movie theatre into the regional centre for film and film art. In 2013, the Ministry of Culture reached a decision to make Kino Europa a protected cultural heritage site and a national treasure of the Republic of Croatia.
ZFF, led by Matić and the cinema's manager, Hrvoje Laurenta, ran the theatre with such success that it did indeed become a meeting place for Zagreb’s cinephiles, but also for the wider cultural public.
"In the last ten years, Kino Europa has been turned from a half-forgotten and dead cinema into what is probably the most lively and important part of the cultural infrastructure in Zagreb," writes film critic and Motovun Film Festival programmer Jurica Pavičić in the Jutarnji List daily newspaper. "The cinema has also literally become the heart of Croatia’s festival and exhibition culture."
Audience figures at the Kino Europa account for some 60% of total attendance levels across Croatia's Network of Independent Cinemas, and given that it hosts a number of significant international festivals, it is an essential venue for distributors and festivals promoting European and arthouse cinema.
In 2016, Kino Europa was awarded the Europa Cinemas Best Programming Prize, winning out over 1,078 other network member theatres. So, what happened? “The Zagreb Film Festival's contract expires on 1 June. Based on legal regulations, the City of Zagreb was obliged to offer us a five-year extension,” Matić tells Cineuropa. “When they informed us that they would not do that, I decided to halt the programme and all activities until we heard from the City, because they have not been replying to our queries for years. In their letter, the City cites renovation work that we have been talking about for five years already, and we offered them three different models of how to do it. In February this year, they approved funding for the whole year, but now they are throwing us out.
“After the initial shock, we said that we would accept the contract not being extended, but the cinema has been a protected cultural heritage site since 2013, on our own initiative. For such a building, renovation must be executed by authorised architects and conservation specialists, based on the highest standards. We estimate that this will take at least two or three years, and meanwhile, there is no replacement for Kino Europa, which will affect many events, including Animafest Zagreb, which starts on 3 June, and later the Zagreb Film Festival itself. The City is waging a war on us, and our future is pretty uncertain.”
Knowing the City of Zagreb and its mayor, it is wishful thinking to expect Kino Europa to be returned to the management of the ZFF, and it may well share the same fate as the Zagreb Cinematheque or the Cinema Jadran: in the former case, the City populated it with people close to Bandić, who are barely able to produce any relevant programmes at all; in the latter case, it simply closed for good.
Meanwhile, letters of support have been flooding into the ZFF from all over Europe and the region: the European Film Academy, Europa Cinemas, the Sarajevo Film Festival, Croatia's national Pula Film Festival, the Ljubljana International Film Festival, production and distribution companies including Continental Film, which distributes fare from the major Hollywood studios, universities, film societies and cultural centres, as well as prominent international figures such as Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and Zagreb Film Festival’s guest of honour from last year, Geraldine Chaplin, among many others.
"On behalf of the board of the European Film Academy, we protest the closure and request that you move to find a common understanding to ensure the serious creative and commercial future of the cinema. After all, the Ministry of Culture proclaimed Kino Europa a crucial part of the cultural and historical heritage of the city, which is something the current team have maintained and curated for over a decade," reads the letter from the EFA board's deputy chairman Mike Downey and director Marion Doering sent to Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Minister of Culture Nina Obuljen Koržinek.
Claude-Eric Poiroux, general director of Europa Cinemas, also wrote to Plenković, Obuljen Koržinek and Bandić, stating: "Kino Europa's exemplariness and excellence are strongly appreciated and closely observed by European business and policy makers, from the local and regional levels to the highest representatives of the European authorities. […] We deeply regret that the very existence of Kino Europa is threatened in its tenth year as a Europa Cinemas member, despite being fully functioning and highly successful! We believe that Kino Europa fully deserves support from its tutelary institutions."
In his first interview with Jutarnji List since his appointment as the new head of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC) on 15 April, former MPAA official Chris Marcich said: "Kino Europa is indispensable. Its independent film programme is a model for the whole Europa Cinemas system and is crucial for the reputation of Croatia and Zagreb. This is something we must not lose at any cost […] So, yes to renovation because it is necessary. An open, public competition that clearly guarantees the continuation of the successful model? OK, let's see if the cinema can be run in an even better way."