This month we speak with Andre Balzekiene, the manager of Kino Pasaka from Vilnius, Lithuania.
Opened in 2009, Pasaka is a boutique cinema theater located in the Old Town of Vilnius. It is part of Europa Cinemas and CICAE networks, and it mainly focuses on screening European films. Pasaka hosts all the most important festivals and film weeks organised in Lithuania: the International Vilnius Film Festival – Kino Pavasaris, the European Film Forum Scanorama, the Polish Film Week etc.
The cinema is not only an exhibitor, but also a distributor of films, releasing from five to eight films annually, and it also owns a VOD platform at www.zmonescinema.lt.
Among the events organised by Kino Pasaka there are the open air cinema festival „Cinema Under the Stars” and the International Women Film Festival “Serseliafam“.
FNE: What is the biggest challenge of running a cinema such as yours?
Andre Balzekiene: Human resources. There are always new ideas, new projects which we could develop and ways to perform better, but each person in our team is a separate and a very busy one- man band. You work on the strategies, budgets, reports and sponsors on Monday. On the same Monday you’re choosing the trash bins from the catalogue for the newly refurbished toilets. The same person does the programming and the communication, the same person greets every customer entering the screening and takes care of the whole ticketing IT system. The projectionists work as handymen, the cashiers are housekeepers at the same time, and so on.
It is still a small business, where everyone does everything. At the same time we work on quite ambitious and challenging projects such as the open air “Cinema Under the Stars”, which had 20,000 admissions in 2018 and a growing VOD platform made in partnership with the biggest weekly lifestyle magazine in Lithuania, ŽMONĖS.
We are also a distributor with recent titles such as A Faithful Man by Louis Garrel, Fugue by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, Putin’s Witnesses by Vitaly Mansky and others. We are partners with the MO Modern Art Museum Vilnius and we curate the cinema programme at their venue. We are also the organisers of the International Women Film Festival “Serseliafam”.
Last but not least, we recently installed a cozy home cinema type screening hall in partnership with the French coffee brand L’or. You buy a ticket, get a cup of great coffee and enjoy it while watching the film in decadent armchairs.
FNE: What kinds of films do you prefer to screen and why?
Andre Balzekiene: We are part of the Europa Cinemas network, so more than 60 % of our films are European films. Though it is an obligation to screen a certain amount of European films, we feel that our cinema is an organic European cinema. We don’t screen European films because we have to. We love European cinema and everything it consists of: the diversity, the unique voices, its different languages and complex stories.
The same as the colleagues in neighboring countries, we notice the rise of national cinema. More and more Lithuanian films are released every year and this becomes a real challenge for the European titles.
As a private and not publicly funded cinema, we must strive to find the balance between our wishes to screen art titles and more commercial ones. Nonetheless, sometimes I see it as some sort of an advantage: your creativity arises when you are hungry and not when you’re in your comfort zone, knowing that everything will be taken care of. I use the word “sometimes” intentively; most of the time I would wish that the life of a European cinema theater would be easier .
FNE: The cinema is home to many festivals, events and film weeks. Why are these important and what do they achieve?
Andre Balzekiene: Going to the cinema these days is an experience and not a thing we couldn’t live without. Thousands of films available on home cinema platforms with just one click don’t encourage people to go to the cinema. Therefore festivals, events and film weeks become an experience worth leaving home for. We are proud to host all the most important Lithuanian festivals and film weeks and we also organise one of our own – the International Women Film Festival “Serseliafam”, which is a film forum to talk about women’s role in the cinema and society.
In 2018 we signed a partnership with the newly opened MO Modern Art Museum in Vilnius in order to curate the cinema programme in their event hall. People seem to like this cooperation and tend to combine the cinema experience with visiting the museum. The repertoire consists of regular new films as well as handpicked titles such as the film about the art collector Peggy Guggenheim.
Other proof that people like to experience cinema as an event is our summer open air project “Cinema Under the Stars”. Organised in Grand Dukes Palace, in the very heart of Vilnius, it attracted 20,000 people in August 2018. We made a free of charge opening screening in the Vilnius Cathedral Square, where we screened a digitally restored Lithuanian classic film. 5,000 people watched the film that night and had the greatest experience that cinema could offer.
FNE: What is the role of Europa Cinemas for cinemas such as your cinema and why is it important?
Andre Balzekiene: It is extremely important both for financial reasons and for the guidelines that we follow. I believe it would be much easier to be lured by the admission success of American titles and to lose your identity. We are proudly wearing the Europa Cinemas sign in our cinema and see it as a key selling point which makes us different from most of other cinemas.
FNE: How does a cinema like your serve the local community?
Andre Balzekiene: We are located in the Old Town, so we do try to make our cinema the number one choice for the people living in the neighborhood. From time to time we publish leaflets with special offers and inform them about new films. We also apply discounts for students, elderly people and people with disabilities.
FNE: Can you say something about your work with young audiences?
Andre Balzekiene: We don’t spend too much on working with young audiences, but we do have our education programme for schools and we regularly invite teachers and children to watch films. We organise free screenings for teachers from time to time, so that they can find out about the newest films first and organise school trips to the cinema. Recently we've joined the national cultural initiative programme “Cultural Passport”, which allocates a certain amount of money for each child to spend on culture. Our goal is to invite them to choose our educational programme amongst others.
FNE: What about the digitalisation of cinemas? How it is affecting your work and your cinema?
Andre Balzekiene: We are a fully digital cinema with three screening halls in Pasaka and one in the MO Museum, and they all run DCP. We also own a VOD platform www.zmonescinema.lt, which was created together with the weekly lifestyle magazine ŽMONĖS. The magazine’s circulation is 40,000 copies, so such a partner with its advertising capacities is a real help for a mostly European VOD platform as ours.
It is extremely hard work to make the VOD platform successful, as we need to deal with piracy and people’s changes of habits. We try different digital advertising techniques, strive to get the newest national titles on VOD as soon as they finish their life in cinemas and also work with festivals so that they provide us with some of their programme for online views while the festival is still running in cinemas. I strongly believe that a film should be accessible on all platforms used by the viewers. It’s their choice where to watch the film and it’s our concern to make every choice they make special.