EDISON filmhub offers viewers more than just top-notch films

Photo: archive of EDISON Filmhub

EDISON Filmhub is a new boutique cinema in the heart of Prague. It exhibits top festival films, premiers, hosts debates, discussions and talks along with a modern café. The former Edison electric company venue, a functionalist building protected by UNESCO, opened its doors to the public on June 1st. I spoke to the director of Film Europe Media Company, Ivan Hronec, about what makes EDISON Filmhub so unique and how it aims to draw visitors to the cinema in the age of Netflix and other streaming services.

Photo: archive of EDISON Filmhub

“We are all facing two main contradictory trends. One is indeed a cultural streaming platform such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney, HBO, where the views are strictly based on individual enjoyment. The sharing of opinions is of course massive, but viewers all consume the films and audio-visual contents very personally. The second trend is the ongoing trend of the “going out” culture, which is about the specific and original location where you can meet people face to face and talk, eat, drink, perhaps enjoy music, fine arts, and of course films. Public screenings of the films must redefine their position in the spectrum of offers.

Ivan Hronec,  photo: Martina Schneibergová
"And what are those factors? Perhaps first maybe the festivals, they are massive and they are very popular, they are flourishing around the world and in Europe. The second mode of consumption is in the small, so called ‘boutique’ cinemas, which are definitely mushrooming across Europe – a form of unique symbiosis with coffee and something extra, either locations or programmes. This is exactly what EDISON Filmhub is offering in the heart of Prague and I strongly believe that it is filling a gap that Prague desperately needed.”

What is so special about the location you chose for the cinema?

“The location is super unique. It´s a constructivist building commissioned by the Electric Prague company at the end of the 20s, 1929. The architect is F. A. Libra, who was a very distinguished and successful Czech architect. The style is very visible and useful, because the building was an electric power house in the heart of Prague. Unfortunately, in the beginning of the 50s it was used as a hotel for communist dignitaries and then it was closed. At the beginning of 2006 or 2007, it was nicely re-furnished or rebuilt by Professor Lábus for a bank institution, which actually lasted until 2012 or 2013. Then again, the building was closed until 2018. In 2018, we got approval from the owners to rent the house and it was open as a cinema and café on June 1st 2019, so it is extremely new. The building is of course one of the main attractions. The location of the building near the synagogue in Jeruzalémská and the beautiful gothic church, in Jindřišká makes it truly special.”

I understand it is also on the UNESCO list?

“Right, basically the whole heart of Prague is a protected area, which is protected by UNESCO. Whatever you are in the centre of Prague there is actually something unique and something protected. This is a constructivist building, but a beautiful one, extremely stylish. It is not something that defines Prague as baroque or gothic. But it is definitely a super nice, beautifully designed building and should be protected.”

Photo: archive of EDISON Filmhub

For people who don´t know what to expect, what kinds of films do you show?

“We are distributors; we actually opened our first cinema in Prague. So we are well-known for having high-end festivals, such as the Berlinale, Venice, Cannes highlights or the best of the SCANDI film festival. We are also contributing to the programming of the French film festival. We are experts on the festival front and that’s exactly what will be shown within EDISON Filmhub.

The best festival films from the main A festivals – Berlinale, Venice, Cannes and of course Toronto, Sundance and many other festivals. We frequently show winning films from festivals and we also show classics. In the programme for instance from June (which is still screening), we are showing a documentary about the Spitfire plane, or a film called Beats by Brian Welsh, a very young Scottish director. The film is about the Scottish revolt music scenes from the 80s. Or classics, like Wuthering Heights by Andrea Arnold – so the very classic films, by modern British directors. Also, the highlights from the best Scandinavian or French cinematography and independent cinematography from the war. We are currently screening the Chinese film; Long Day’s Journey into Night, the director is called Bi Gan. The peculiarity of this film is that the very last forty minutes are in 3D – the cinema is capable of screening in 3D as well. If you combine the extreme boutique-style cinema together with coffee, it is a very intimate space (not more than 100 seats). We provide top class technology, special seating and coffee – the trend we discussed at the beginning of our conversation.”

Photo: Martina Schneibergová
What are some of the events that take place apart from screenings?

“As the venue requires, it is not just films. We also offer debates, not just about the films, but about the topics in the films. An integral part of our programme are Q&A´s, debates and talks. We invite directors, actors, critics. For example we had a visit from the distinguished music critic Pavel Klusák. He gave a speech about the Scottish rave culture which was very well received by the audience. We are inviting actors as well. For instance, the Russian director Yuri Bykov is going to introduce and talk about his new film Fabrika (The Factory) at the end of August in EDISON. At the end of September, we are having Nora Fingscheidt, the director of System Crasher, which deals with problematic kids.

"In October, we have highlights from Venezia, Berlinale and Cannes, names like Elia Suleiman and his great film It Must be Heaven or the British director Ken Loach who actually won the Golden Palm a couple of years ago. This year, his film Sorry We Missed You premiered in Cannes and the Dardenne brothers and their film Young Ahmed was also awarded in Cannes. The new director from Paris and his film Les Misérables and many others will also be featured by us. November is dedicated to the French film festival and we are a very integral part of it. We are providing films there, many guests will come. We are also launching the SCANDI film festival. One of the highlights is the audience prize winner from the Sundance Film Festival Queen of Hearts starring Trine Dyrholm and we will do our best to invite her. This is actually something extra, but not really, because today’s audience expects something extra as the integral part of the programme of any good, small boutique cinema in the world. And the Prague EDISON Filmhub is going to provide exactly that.”

Photo: archive of EDISON Filmhub

Why is the name EDISON so fitting? Who was Edison and how has he influenced cinema?

“This is a peculiar story. The historical facts are as follows: the first public cinema was actually established on the 22nd of March 1895. The first screening was in Paris by the Lumière brothers, who held their first paid public screening at the end of December 1895, in the Grand Café in Paris – that was the first so called public approach. Simultaneously, that was also the approach of Thomas Alva Edison, which was strictly individual. He invented the Kinetoscope, which only projected a picture inside a machine and only a single viewer could watch the projection through the peep hole. Those two approaches were actually very simultaneous at the end of the 19th century.

"As we all know, the Lumière social approach prevailed for the next 100 years. Since the establishment of Netflix, Hulu or Disney all of a sudden, this individual approach (which was actually invented by Edison 100 years ago) suddenly competes with the social approach. And what now? The nice conclusion - which is not about competition, but cooperation - is to merge the two approaches. EDISON Filmhub is obviously a small cinema (so we are still having the traditional Lumière approach – the social perception)but at the same time, we are launching EDISON Filmhub ‘Go’ around October, and this is going to be the EDISON approach of the individual enjoyment of film.

“One more interesting fact is that Thomas Alva Edison was actually invited by the Prague Electric Company, to take part in the opening of the building, which is called Edison. In the end he did not come. He sent a letter apologising that he could not come because he was ill. Whether that is true or not, I leave open. However, we found the letter in the archive of the electric company and it indeed says, I am sorry I cannot come, I wish you all the best and send my blessings. So we actually have the right to use the Edison name for the building, paying respect to the Edison approach of the film consumption which is individual, compared to the Lumière approach which was and is social. And I just want to add that viewers who come to the Edison Filmhub will get not just good films but excellent coffee and cakes.”