First Czech cinema prepares to celebrate 100th birthday


2009 marks several important anniversaries for the Czech Republic; one we have not heard so much about is the 100th anniversary of the cinema house. The place in question is Prague’s Lucerna Palace, which screened its first film on December 3, 1909, and is still today the most popular single-screen cinema in the country. Christian Falvey visited the landmark venue to see how it was preparing to celebrate.

Just being in the cinema of Lucerna Palace is like walking onto a film set from a turn of the century period piece. Not a kernel of popcorn in sight, walking into the lush atmosphere of Art Nouveau and emerging modernism is a completely different movie-going experience. The first film was screened here in Lucerna Cinema in 1909, making it one of the first permanent cinema houses in the world. As Andrej Štůla, a producer at Lucerna points out, not much has changed:

“Everyone who is here for the first time says, ‘wow, this is not a cinema, it’s a theatre,’ and this is true, because Cinema Lucerna was built as part of the National Theatre but during the construction they realised they didn’t want the place, they had enough. And in 1909 there was a new idea of cinemas, so they built a cinema here. But it looks like a theatre, and that’s the most important thing. And what has changed? Well, anyone who has been here to the screening hall can see that the hall is the same. We have new seats, but nothing else has changed. So there is a spirit of 100 years ago”

Now Lucerna Cinema is celebrating the hundred-year anniversary of that decision with a trip through the ten decades of filmmaking that touched on the place in some way. Many a film was made here or premiered here, while the associated production company was a staple of the Czech film industry for much of the 20th century.

“Lucerna is connected with Lucerna Film, which was one of the biggest film companies. And they brought special films to the Czech Republic, for example the first movies with sound and classical westerns in the 20s and 30s. So for Czech society it’s very important. And it’s also important because, though some people know Lucerna as a place for high society – that’s also true – but it’s also true that normal people came here to see special films. So that’s why Lucerna became famous.”

Times have changed of course, but Lucerna remains an important part of cinematography in the Czech Republic, even in a completely new era.

“Now in the 21st century the times have really changed. In Prague we have many multiplex cinemas with several screening halls, we have just one so we are a classic cinema. But still we are one of the most visited classical cinemas in the Czech Republic.

If you’re interested in seeing the hundred-year history of Lucerna Cinema for yourself in the magnificent screening room itself, the shows are free and they are on every Sunday afternoon until the actual anniversary on December 3.