The Big Screen: Poland's Most Intriguing Cinemas
The number of cinema-goers in Poland is climbing steadily. Almost 52 million tickets were sold in 2006, six million more than a year before. The majority of screenings take place in multiplex cinemas, usually located in shopping malls. Luckily, there are still smaller local cinemas, which offer not only films but also unique atmosphere. Culture.pl presents some of these most intriguing Polish cinemas.
Data from the Central Statistical Office shows a great change that happened in the last couple of decades on the cinema market in Poland. In 2000, citizens from 479 municipalities had access to a cinema, in 2012 only 308 – it seems cinemas are disappearing from small towns and moving to shopping malls. Another proof of this is the fact that in 2016 there was a total of 484 cinemas and 1,364 screening rooms. In 2001, there were 639 small single or double-screen cinemas, while 11 years later their number had dropped to 341.
Pionier Cinema, Szczecin
It’s one of the world’s oldest cinemas still in use – a fact evidenced by a Guinness World Records certificate. According to the official data, the first screening took place on 29th September 1909, but some researchers claim that it had already started to operate two years earlier. Its maker and first owner was Otto Blauert.
This Szczecin theatre was renamed a couple of times: the first name was Weltkinotheater, then Odra, and since 1950 – Pionier. In 2002, the building was renovated: the cinema kept its old-fashioned atmosphere but gained modern equipment and an unusual café, where film screenings can also be organised. This resembles the early 20th century when you could watch films while sitting by a café table drinking a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
Pionier Cinema is located in an eclectic tenement building on Aleja Wojska Polskiego in Szczecin city centre.
Rialto Cinema, Katowice
Built when this part of Poland was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Kammerlichtspiele Cinema started to operate on 7th November 1912 in a modernised Classicist-style building on Święty Jan Street in Katowice. Its 800-capacity auditorium was accompanied by a podium for a 20-member orchestra – at that time, films were otherwise silent (the first screening with sound in this cinema took place in 1929). Despite a name change to Rialto, the cinema has continued operating in the same building until today. It was renovated almost 100 years after it was opened in the years 2004-2005 and its equipment was modernised. This renovation included turning it into a multi-purpose cinema-theatre, with a cultural centre with a screening room, a cabaret stage, a gallery, and a seniors’ club.
Iluzjon Cinema, Warsaw
There were 61 cinemas in Warsaw in 1939 before the war. In 1948, there were just six left. According to the idea that film can play a role in the shaping of society, six new detached modern cinemas were raised in the years 1948-1950. Moskwa, Praha, 1 Maj, Ochota and Stolica were scattered around the city to give the citizens of all districts access to films. Characteristic to all was their modernist architecture.
Unfortunately, only one of them has maintained its original function and form – the old Stolica Cinema – today named Iluzjon. It was even entered into the register of monuments. Painstakingly renovated and located in a small park square in the Mokotów district, it belongs to the National Film Archive and consquently features rarely-screened celluloid classics every day. The cinema has a characteristic rotunda in the front and a wavy roof above the main building as well as two auditoriums. Designed in 1948 by Mieczysław Piprek, the 2012renovation was conducted in compliance with the original blueprints according to a design by a team of architects led by Tadeusz A. Żera.
Kijów Cinema, Kraków
Kijów Cinema was designed by Witold Cęckiewicz and built in the years 1959-1966. A particularly unusual feature is that the building is physically connected to the neighbouring modernist Cracovia Hotel through a system of terraces and platforms. Despite plans to demolish the hotel, the building was fortunately taken over by the National Museum in Kraków. The cinema has been operating non-stop since its opening and remains really popular with locals.
Entered into the register of monuments in 2016, of the building has several characteristic features including a hanging curved roof, a glass façade, and a mosaic with a sun motif covering one of the walls. The interior is equally polished: the wall of the foyer is covered with a monumental ceramic composition (designed by Krystyna Zgud-Strachocka) and the modern auditorium can host as many as 960 spectators (for a long time, Kijów was the biggest cinema in Kraków).
Apollo Cinema, Poznań
In 1846, the Prussian industrialist Conrad Lambert built a shopping arcade called Apollo between Ratajczaka and Piekary Streets in Poznań. After World War I and Poland’s recovery of its territories, Polish investors Józef Czepczyński and Jan Łuczak established a cinema in the arcade which has been operating ever since. During the inter-war period, it was one of the most popular places in Poznań and the biggest cinema in the city (it could host 900 people). In 2005, the cinema was renovated and modernised. The new interior was inspired by the Art Deco style and alludes to the cinema’s golden age.
Cinemas in the socialist-realist style
More and more often, people don’t perceive socialist realism only from the perspective of history, namely that it was a style imposed by decree. Today, many of the monumental buildings raised in the early 1950s have entered the national register of monuments and their massive decorative forms have their admirers. There are many different buildings in that style: houses, government offices, schools, and also cinemas.
In the Kraków district of Nowa Huta – a flagship example of those times – there were three such cinemas. Two of them are interesting from an architectural point of view: the detached buildings of Świt and Światowid cinemas have massive classicist forms with columned porticos and railings. Unfortunately, none of them serves its original function anymore: Światowid is now the Museum of the Polish People’s Republic, and the big screening room of Świt has been converted into… a supermarket. The only thing that resembles the past is the café located in a former small projection room.
Among the cinemas that were built during the era of socialist realism and still operate are the Ballada Cinema in Stalowa Wola and the Muranów Cinema in Warsaw. The former is part of the residential area built where the Warsaw Ghetto used to be.
Cinemas in places of worship
Shortly after World War II, many of the synagogues left standing were converted into cinemas. It might appear shocking today but then – for political and practical reasons – some of the Jewish temples were remodelled into cinema auditoriums or cultural centres so that they remained focal points for local communities. Some of them still operate today. Among the synagogues converted during the post-war period were those in Obrzycko, Nowy Targ (Tatry Cinema still operates today), Pszczyna (Wenus Cinema also still operates today), Sieraków, Działdowo, Wolsztyn, Koronowo (the Synagoga Cultural Centre is also still operational), Krośniewice, Grajewo, Wodzisław, Kazimierz Dolny and many others.
Meanwhile, the Harmonia Cinema in Nowe Miasto Lubawskie still operates in the building of a former Evangelical church. The one-nave temple built in the centre of the main town square in 1824-1827 was taken over by the city’s authorities in 1958, who decided to change its purpose. The equipment (not only the altar but also antique floors) were moved to other churches. Today the building also hosts a tourist information centre.
Film Centre in Gdynia
It’s easier to find pleasant and cosy auditoriums in old cinemas. New ones rarely have a unique atmosphere or original architecture. But there are exceptions. One of them is the building of the Film Centre in Gdynia that opened in 2015, a cultural and educational institution that aims to spread knowledge about the art of film. The white irregular building with its glass façade was designed by the Archdeco studio. The building hosts the Film School of Gdynia, a bookstore, a gallery, a café and three auditoriums. The biggest, the Warszawa auditorium, can host 227 people, while Goplana seats 96, and Morskie Oko a cosy 45. Their repertoire is carefully selected – you won’t find any blockbusters here.
Originally written in Polish, Aug 2017, translated by KF, Nov 2017