This month we spoke with Barbora Tóthová, PR Manager of Kino Usmev (Cinema Smile). This one screen art house cinema located in the center of Košice (Slovakia) is run by Cinefil, a not-for-profit organisation of film enthusiasts and professionals, that took over it in 2015. The cinema opened in1922 and was abandoned in 2012. This 300-seat cinema is the last surviving art house cinema in Košice.
FNE: What is the biggest challenge of running a cinema such as yours? Barbora Tóthová: The biggest challenge for us has always been the old cinema building, which is also the biggest advantage as everyone from our city knows Kino Usmev, as it was in operation since 1922. However, the old building brings along everyday challenges in terms of isolation, small damages, reparation costs, effective usage of the space, ecological sustainability and so on. We also face challenges in terms of financial sustainability as an independent exhibitor (NGO), and audience development.
FNE: What kinds of films do you prefer to screen and why? Barbora Tóthová: We prefer to screen new titles in distribution and mainly European production, but we are open to screen also mainstream titles if we see potential in terms of quality and/or experiment with attracting new audiences into the cinema. We also organise theme nights/weekends, screenings for kids, festivals.
FNE: The cinema is home to many festivals, events and film weeks. Why are these important and what do they achieve? Barbora Tóthová: It is very important to have variety in your programme, especially nowadays when you're competing not only with the TV (in Slovakia people still watch television a lot), but also with online VOD channels and piracy. We need to offer special screenings. Festivals are always great, because films are usually not available for download, so people are happy to get out to the cinema and see them. Special nights and events such as Harry Potter marathon, where you screen movies that people have seen hundreds of times is also a great "going out with friends" sort of experience and they are very, very popular.
FNE: What is the role of Europa Cinemas for cinemas such as your cinema and why is it important? Barbora Tóthová: We opened in June 2016 and for a year we were totally independent in terms of public funding. We didn't get any support from any national fund or municipality, and we were not part of Europa Cinemas. It was a hard year and we realised that being absolutely independent is nice, but in terms of being a one screen cinema in a smaller city with a small audience it is almost impossible.
The Slovak Audiovisual Fund doesn't offer funding for cinemas as programme support. It is because we might be the only really independent art house in Slovakia. Normally cinemas (apart from multiplexes) are under municipalities. If we want to develop the programme and to work better on audience development, it is important for us to be part of Europa Cinemas and so to be in contact with other cinemas facing the same challenges and fighting the same problems.
FNE: How does a cinema like your cinema serve the local community? Barbora Tóthová: We believe we serve to the community not only in terms of education of young audiences with a potential of having an effect on future Slovak film scene, but also as a place for people to meet, talk about films, bring ideas, make friends, etc. A small art house cinema/cultural centre in Kosice.
FNE: Can you say something about your work with young audiences?Barbora Tóthová: Our work with young audiences is still in development and 2018 should be about young audiences at our cinema. We plan to work closer with schools, teachers, etc.
FNE: What about the digitalisation of cinemas? How it is affecting your work and your cinema? Barbora Tóthová: We were lucky to get funding for digitisation from the Slovak Audiovisual Fund before we opened. Without the digitalisation we couldn't be competitive and maintain and run such a big venue.