It began as a civic association Cinefil – the group of friends started playing movies in the centre of the Dominican Square for 20,000 viewers a year. The project on an audiovisual culture centre is currently in its highest peak – Kino Úsmev has become the most recognizable hip place in the city and its popularity is reaching further over time. Streaming Slovak cinematography has shifted considerably in the year 2017 when a million of Slovak movie visits was achieved. Kino Smile has proven to have a successful business model, cool team management, interesting selection of events, and a lot more. The cinematographer and visionary of the experimental storytelling forms told us where the plans for the future are heading, but also about his own perception on the cinema in the historical centre of the city in the times of multiplexes. When asked about his success, Lukáš Berberich commented:
1. On content selection
The main feature of Kino Úsmev is to provide space for more demanding viewers. That is to say, you’ll find a varied selection of artistically-tuned or independent films other than classic blockbusters in multiplex cinemas that are very little adjusted to the atmosphere and mental sterility of the shopping mall. Lukáš emphasizes that even though “Kino Úsmev does not avoid commercial production and follows a program of distribution companies, it would certainly not choose a movie without added value for the broadening of the audience’s horizons. The theme or genre is strongly intertwined with the old-fashioned cinema environment, where not only local people often enjoy the very best Czechoslovak movie.” The cinema’s speciality is a 35-mm film projector hidden just above the spiral staircase. In the future, the dramaturgy team wants to incorporate more of these formats into the program for older and younger movie lovers.
2. On audience and accompanying events
The entire team and management feels very close to its viewer and tries to make the most of it with the selection of art and commercial films. That was the whole point since the renovation and re-foundation of the cinema. According to Lukáš, it is important to interact with people, referring to the demand for the marathons on themes such as Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings. These have happened during the recent years and got a really strong response: “People spent most of their weekend in the cinema – the elderly, youngsters or the parents with children. Therefore, we try to adapt the programme in favor of our fans and it naturally forms from the needs of the community around us. We regularly organize alternative travel lectures, Literature and film cycle, or festivals like Scandi (Nordic Film Collection), Israeli Film Festival, or Be2Can. Twice a year, we give space to Slovak and foreign stalls at the street food festivals and we are considered to be the main festival cinema during Art Film Fest,” says Lukáš.
3. On the uniqueness of a club cinema
Kino Úsmev has acquired many supporters in and out of Košice. Lukáš says the difference between a stone cinema and multiplex is definitely in the price for tickets. But it is especially the character and vibe of the place strengthened through the original equipment and new professional technique. The obvious plus is the bar itself and the terrace in front of the cinema “where movie lovers can sit down and talk about their impressions that they have endured during the show. This is the primary contrast between this type of cinema and the anonymous multiplex environment. From there you can only get out as far as to a car park. A great advantage is also the location in the historical centre which is super near to Main Street. We also feel that local people appreciate our efforts and are very willing to support this kind of local activity. This has extra value for us.”
4. On the future of the movie
The director of Kino Úsmev regularly visits various cinematographic activities such as European festivals or even those beyond the continent’s border. He agrees that he is fascinated by alternative views of film experiences and tendencies towards experimental forms of storytelling, which are often the subject of current discussions and debates. How will the cinema look like in the future? Will it still be considered a social activity? “I am interested in the topics of expanded reality and VR reality as a mediator of the new film experience. In the coming years, we plan to extend our cinema with an experimental hall to make space for a completely different perspective and cinematic perception, mostly on social or environmental issues. Such films, with a new form of storytelling, leave a stronger footprint in the viewer and that’s something we’d like to devote our time in the future,” says Lukáš.
5. On new vision
The cinema’s development was approved by the city three years ago under the label Kino Úsmev as a centre of audiovisual culture. This suggests that new ideas and surprising innovations are just around the corner. Lukáš admits he wants the program and the future to turn into a sphere of film production, similarly as his own ambitions. The aim would be to encourage the production of local screenwriters and to create an environment for film development right here, in this town. As well as the presentation of the finished product, Lukáš wants to take part in the process making itself: “Basically, we have already started with short residential stays with the help of K.A.I.R. in recent years. A few months ago, artists such as Japanese animator Kaoru Furoko and Czech video artist Mark Ther came to work here for a while. These residences could generate a database of themes or scripts in the future.”
6. On team management
Director of one of the most popular places to watch a movie or sit down in Košice stops and thinks for a few seconds before answering the question on what he has learned most in the past 3 years in business. As an entrepreneur and boss of Kino Úsmev, he has discovered a lot about the responsibility for the people he manages. He explains how the right conditions for the quality of the well-being of the whole body are necessary: “The communication is very important for me and my colleagues. I want this to be the place where we can express ourselves, what we expect from each other. I have gained plenty of knowledge about working with people and the truth is, I am still learning. We give our people opportunities to improve whether in the form of training or excursion to a thematic inspirational program in the field we are working on. For example, we took some to the New York Film Festival in 2018.”
One of more than fine things in Košice (as it’s already clear from the text) is the willingness of the local community to understand the nature of creating an environment in the spirit “made by us and for us”. This was proven in strong support for the construction of a new hall – Kino Impulz – through the crowdfunding service. Withing a surprising 37 days almost 12,000 euros was collected. The renovation for a more comfortable experience of the capacity for 20 seats is scheduled for April 2019. Do not forget – now and then, too – to come for a good movie here.
photo: Maja Bodnárová