Ivo Anderle operates Prague’s two leading arthouse cinemas, Aero, in the Žižkov district of the city, and Světozor, a few metres from Wenceslas Square. In recent years he has entered the distribution business with Aerofilms, whose biggest success to date has been the documentary Citizen Havel, recently voted best Czech film of the last two decades by a poll of industry figures in Reflex magazine.
I spoke to Ivo Anderle in the café of kino Světozor.
“I didn’t really prepare for this kind of career, because what I studied was international trade. So professionally, or on the education side, not really. But on the other hand, I like to go to the cinema a lot.
“Then when I went to Prague and I lived very close to the cinema I’m working for now it just happened that my now colleagues took over the cinema and rearranged the programming, rearranged the inside of it. Then I started paying a lot of attention to it, because it was exactly the kind of place I like to go and hang out at, watch some good films, grab a beer.
“Then later I decided to stay in Prague for the summer one year. I was looking for a summer job, they needed someone, I started there for just two months and then they realised it’s working out well, I loved it, so now it’s been 10 years, or nine years.”
“Well, Aero is something that will probably never be repeated. This was a coincidence of many…or a collision of many coincidences, I would say, that everything turned out so well with Aero. It got really popular around the year 2000, it was, like, the place to be in Prague.
“We were enjoying success and having a lot of plans for the future. And one of the plans was to overcome the limitations that Aero has. As you said, it’s not really in the centre of town, it has only one screen. So even for the programming you are quite limited.
“Then we had a chance in 2004, I believe, to rent this cinema Světozor in the centre. So we took a chance and tried to set up something similar to Aero but not quite the same. We tried to work in Světozor on more expensive lines – on a small level, though.
“Aero remains a little more punky, in terms of the society or the people that are visiting the cinema and also the surroundings. The bar looks much more like a beer type of bar than here, which is more a coffee kind of place. So it’s different feelings, different atmosphere, different programming, different money, different everything.”
Is there a big market for arthouse cinema in the Czech Republic, or could you possibly compare it to other countries in Europe?
“The Czech Republic is a small, or some people would say middle-sized, country. So that works in the cinema market as well. The admission per person in the Czech Republic is 1.2 admissions per person per year. That would be much more than in Poland, for example. So we are making up a little bit for the small size.
“Also the Czech Republic is, I think, benefiting a lot from the fact that Czech films do really well with audiences. The rate of Czech films in the top 10 and the admissions they make is quite high – I think after France and Turkey it’s the highest in Europe for last year. So local production is very popular – that helps the industry in general.
“For arthouse films, there’s a very big difference between Prague, Brno and smaller cities. I think we’re lucky with the cinemas being in Prague, because there’s a big enough audience to fill arthouse cinemas.”
A couple of years ago you set up a distribution company called Aerofilms – how is that going?
“Pretty well, thank you for asking. It’s been about four years now. We started the distribution company because now we have the cinemas we thought that we know what our audience wants. We realised that sometimes we would like to show them films that no other distribution company brings to the country. So we were lucky enough to find a partner and set up our own company, independently of the others.”
“It took us about one year from when we learned that this film was going to be in distribution until we actually released it, and a good six months we didn’t know if it’s going to be us. But we did everything we could to get this film, no matter what the profit would be. Nobody really expected it was going to be so successful at the beginning.
“It was simply because of the fact that to get related to a person like Václav Havel, and to such a great film by Mira Vanek…it was something that just went directly to our hearts, and we knew it was exactly the type of programming we would love to send to the cinemas and we are really happy it happened. And even more so because it was a commercially successful release.”
In today’s world a lot of people are getting a lot of stuff for free, from the internet, illegally, making illegal copies of DVDs. Czechs are great at this – you even find unofficial subtitles for TV programmes in Czech. What can you do as a cinema operator to keep people coming to the cinema?
“You are right, internet piracy must be playing a huge role. Any time I see anybody who understands how to get to these illegal websites and they show me how many titles you can download by one click, I’m amazed. And I realise this is probably costing a lot of distributors and cinema operators a lot of money.
“However, I’m not sure if everybody who is watching films from the internet would be, if they weren’t doing this, spending time and money going to the cinema. That’s another thing.
“Anyway, I think the solution to this is to work with people from a very early stage, to bring them to the cinema when they are little kids, to try to explain to them that this is something they can never experience at home.
“Not because of the quality of the screening any more – sometimes a home video might be better than local cinema equipment – but for the feeling of sharing, of the society…background of the whole event, to share feelings that you are not likely to share watching TV or a film on the internet.
“That’s as simple as it gets. Once people understand this, you can have nations that are very…cinematic nations, like France or England, where people have the same possibilities of downloading from the internet, but they understand somehow a little bit better, because it’s in their cultural histories and under their skins, that going to the cinema is something really exciting. And they still do it in a big way.
“That I think needs to be watched closely from the Czech Republic and we
have to learn from this and work with the kids in a better way. I think
people should start thinking about it.”
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