It’s Wednesday night and Kino Aero in Prague’s Žižkov district is swarming with people. Despite it’s slightly run down interior and uncomfortable creaky chairs this small cinema has become a legendary venue here in Prague and people don’t mind spending the extra twenty minutes or so that it takes to get here from the city centre. Kino Aero has just recently celebrated ten years of its existence and I went to meet its manager Ivo Andrle to find out what exactly it is that makes the place so special:
You recently celebrated Aero’s tenth anniversary but as far as I know the cinema in Žižkov has been around for much longer…
“Yes, what we actually celebrated was the ten year anniversary of our company running the cinema. You are right that the cinema opened many years earlier, in 1932 I believe, and it has been in operation ever since. So we should really be celebrating higher numbers. But even though we take that period as a part of our history we still like to divide the cinema’s history into two parts, before us and with us.”
What was the cinema like when you took over?
“Aero was one of many cinemas in Prague that did not premiere films, that privilege went to bigger cinema houses in the city centre. The cinema belonged to the city and the people at the Town Hall decided they didn’t want to support it financially any more and started looking for somebody to run it for them. My two colleagues were running a very famous pub “At the Shot-out Eye” at that time in Žižkov and they were very much involved in the cultural life of the district. They won the bid and in 1998 they opened the cinema without actually having any previous experience in how to run it.
“They soon realized that people were coming to the cinema for the atmosphere. The first thing my friends did was to open a bar in the foyer of the cinema, which attracted yet more people. Another decisive factor was the choice of films- artsy rather than commercial films. And before they knew it my friends realized they were running an art house cinema. They have been playing this role ever since and it proved to be the right thing, because in 1998 there was no multiplex in Prague and there was no such a thing as an art house cinema in the city.”
Ten years later, the situation is quite different, with multiplex cinemas appearing all over the city. But judging from the hustle and bustle here at Kino Aero, it doesn’t seem to have suffered. So, what keeps people coming here these days? Here is what some visitors have to say:
“I am here to see a movie that was recommended to me by my friends. I don’t really know what it is about. But in general I trust in this cinema as an art cinema. It usually promotes good quality culture. That’s probably the main reason.”
How often do you come here?
“Not that often because it’s not really downtown. I usually go to art cinemas which are more close to where I work and study. I would say five times a year, on average.”
Why are you here tonight?
Do you come often or did you come because of this particular film?
“We come here about once a month to a movie show, because we don’t like the multiplex cinemas.”
Are there any advantages apart from the programme?
With the arrival of multiplex cinemas at the end of the 1990s, regular cinemas started loosing their premiere showings and had to look for new ways to attract visitors. Many established places, such as Bio Illusion at Prague’s Vinohrady, couldn’t cope with the competition and had to close down. Aero decided not to rely on local distribution only and started looking for other sources of good films. Ivo Andrle:
“We started exploring other ways of putting the programme together: working with embassies, going to foreign festivals, trying to order films from world right-holders. And that was just one step away from organizing retrospectives, like Bergman or Fellini.”
Nowadays, retrospectives and festivals of all kinds have become a regular part of the programme. Just recently Aero introduced a so-called “Blind Date with Aero”. People come to the cinema without knowing what film they are going to see. They only pay afterwards, depending on how they enjoyed the movie:
“The most important thing is that any time we do this, which is once a month, we have some 200 people who show up for the film. So there is audience that likes to play the game and is willing to take the risk. Even though it is not that risky, because if you leave the cinema within first fifteen minutes of the screening, and you go to the bar and say that you have seen it already you will get a free beer.”
“This year we were the first cinema in Eastern Europe to start doing live broadcasts from The Metropolitan Opera. We are now trying to get other cinemas in the country to join the project because we believe it can work in other cities as well. We had no idea how big the opera audience is. We could probably sell triple the capacity of the cinema guessing from how many people are still calling and e-mailing for tickets.
Apart from all that, Ivo Andrle has also established his own production company and runs yet another cinema in Prague, called kino Světozor. According to him, the key to success is to always keep looking for new ways and new ideas:
“Of course we had lots of small failures but sometimes, from time to time, we were able to put together something that worked well and that people associated with Aero. I think that many people who are loyal to one cinema are loyal to Aero.”
Visitor to Aero:
“For me, Aero is like home, because I live near here. Coming to Aero is part of my cultural life. I know that every evening they are showing a good movie and I can take my beer or drink inside. There is a great atmosphere every evening. It’s not like in the big multiplex cinemas; it’s like home.”
The episode featured today was first broadcast on March 7, 2008.