Prague arthouse cinema Kino Pilotů wins European award
Independent Prague cinema Kino Pilotů received a prize for Best Programming at the Europa Cinemas Awards earlier this month – the first time a Czech movie theatre has won. But what makes the small “kino” so special?
Film buffs and cinema enthusiasts are never at a loss for places to go in Prague – the city is home to several top-notch independent cinemas. One of the most popular is Kino Pilotů in Prague’s Vršovice district, which gets its name from the fact that it was operated by the former Union of Czechoslovak Pilots in the 1930s. The cinema has a history dating back to the early 20th century when it was a purely open-air cinema that screened films outdoors, before the present-day building was constructed.
But the cinema in its current form opened its doors in 2016, under the management of married couple Jan Macola and Alžběta Macolová. Alžběta spoke to Radio Prague soon after the prize was announced.
“The award was a big surprise. But I always say the programme is the heart of the cinema. When I’m curating the programme I always think about the people who come here, which films we liked and which films aren’t offered at other cinemas. So it made me very happy that this was recognised by other colleagues and professionals as well.”
Alžběta thinks her cinema won the award largely thanks to the diversity of its programming, which caters to a vast array of different audiences and ages. Kino Pilotů runs a special programme for senior citizens which presents contemporary international and Czech films at a discounted price, and it also cooperates with local schools, screening films for children that are both entertaining and educational.
She and her husband try to cater to both niche and mainstream audiences, showing quality blockbusters and popular movies as well as independent films and documentaries. They also host special events, such as premieres accompanied by discussions with filmmakers and quirky festivals, such as Macolová’s personal favourite, the festival of surfer films, which she says attracts a completely different crowd than usual to the cinema.
But she says they are sometimes limited by what is available, and do not get to show everything they would like to.
“It depends a lot which films make it into Czech distribution, because not all the films we like do. But because we have our own film distribution company, sometimes we can put films from abroad that we like into distribution ourselves.”
Alžběta’s husband, Jan, is a film producer who recently finished working on his most ambitious project so far – the biopic Il Boemo, which has been selected as the Czech contender for Best Foreign Feature Film at the Oscars. He had the idea of opening their own cinema in 2015, the reason being, according to Alžběta, that he wanted to influence the success of films after they made it to cinemas as well as before.
The first two auditoriums in the cinema opened in 2016, with the addition of a third smaller one in 2018. Alzbeta manages the day-to-day running of the cinema and takes care of the programming and film distribution.
But what is the future of cinema, in a world with streaming platforms, and especially when the cost of living crisis is driving people to save where they can?
Macolová says they strive to keep the cost of tickets and refreshments as low as possible, and that their loyal base of fans keep them afloat – a base that is continually increasing. Kino Pilotů achieved higher ticket sales in the period from April to October this year than it did in 2019, the year before the Covid pandemic – quite a feat.
And as for streaming platforms, Macolová is not afraid.
“This is a topic that cinema owners return to again and again – that cinemas will disappear from the map when some new technology comes along. But history shows us that this is not the case. People were saying the same thing when television came along, when VHS came along and then when DVDs came along, and now it’s the same thing again with streaming platforms. Every time there is a discussion about whether cinemas will survive this change.”
Macolová sees two main selling points that traditional cinemas have to offer over at-home streaming services.
"Obviously one has to constantly innovate and think up new events – that is one thing that brings people to the cinema. But what is most important, and this is definitely true of Kino Pilotů, is that it is a meeting place, a place for people to have some kind of communal shared experience, and that is something that can’t be completely substituted by streaming platforms.”
And these are not just empty words – as well as the auditoriums, the cinema building also houses a café and a garden that is open in the summer months. Overlooking Krymská, a street that in recent years has become one of Prague’s most happening nightlife spots, Kino Pilotů attracts people who like to stop by for a drink and a chat without even necessarily seeing a film.