Surveys published by pollsters such as CBOS and Ipsos last year showed that 57 percent of Poles don’t go to the movies at all. Aside from the expense (about PLN 25 to see a film at a Warsaw multiplex, for example), Poland is still mostly rural, putting cinemas physically out of reach for many people.
Grzegorz Molewski is out to change that. “We can’t allow for our society to be alienated in its access to culture,” he said.
That’s why Molewski is leading a small team coordinated by Poland’s Electronics and Communication Chamber of Commerce (KIGEiT) in setting up Kino za Rogiem (Cinema Around the Corner), aimed at spreading the movie-going experience to Poland’s small cities and towns.
]“Today’s technology allows for unlimited access to . . . culture, if you only have internet access,” Molewski said. “But you’re on your own, just with your computer,” he said. Kino za Rogiem’s ideas is to create “space where a group of people could watch a movie together” – and do so affordably by making the films available to the venues via internet downloads from one central server.
Classic Polish films as well as recently released international blockbusters are in Kino za Rogiem’s catalog, based on deals with copyright ownership organizations and movie distributors. Venues – local cultural centers, libraries, private cafes — pay a monthly fee and are charged separately for each screening, depending on their size, Molewski said. The fee is calculated in such a way as to make screenings possible even if only four people show up and pay no more than PLN 5 per ticket.
“We’re aware that running a stand-alone cinema in a small town would not be a profitable business,” Molewski said. “That’s why we offer the concept of adding a small theater to an existing place.” The makeshift theaters must be in a separate room, are required to have basic cinema equipment, and can have a maximum 60 seats.
Theater owners cover the costs of managing a cinema in the Kino za Rogiem project, and have responsibility for adapting their space to fulfill the project’s requirements. Molewski’s team offers assistance and, in some cases, co-financing after it has obtained a subsidy from the EU’s European Regional Development Fund, with the help of the Mazowieckie voivodship authorities.
Molewski, 60, knows something about the movies. He ran a movie distribution company in the 1990’s and he was the brain behind the Kino Polska television channel, created in 2003, which features classic Polish films and television series. He is also involved in a digital remastering project and the creation of a digital repository of Polish films.
Various experiences: So far, Kino za Rogiem has lined up nine venues across Poland, and is about to include new ones. Candidate venues must file applications to join the program, and Molewski said the project has a growing number of candidates.
At Cafe Kontynenty in Kraków movies have been screened under the Kino za Rogiem logo since last summer. There is one movie shown each Sunday and for now the plan is to continue testing the project until February and then decide what’s next, Małgorzata Zając from the cafe’s management said.
So far, she said, the project does not generate extra costs, but it did not bring a surge in revenue either. “The offer proved much more attractive for children than for adults,” she added, “possibly because Cafe Kontynenty is known as a child-friendly place.” So parents bring their children to watch a movie in the cinema room and then sit down to a coffee with friends at the cafe itself, Zając said.
Zając was a bit skeptical about attracting adult viewers. “There were situations when nobody came,” she said. “It all depends on many factors, including the weather, especially in the summer,” she said.
Meanwhile in Poznań one of the locations is Klub Dragon, a place where you can meet friends, eat out, listen to music, attend an arts workshop and, since May last year, watch a movie in the Kino za Rogiem project. Hanna Polanowska, who runs the project there, said that the movie screenings have nicely fitted into the club’s scope of activity. “Quite a lot of people come to see the indie movies that we usually have on offer,” she said.
“People are happy to be able to watch a movie in a unique atmosphere,” Polanowska said, “in a comfortable place, sipping a coffee or a drink.” And the tickets are priced at only PLN 5, which may be the cheapest ticket in Poznań. “I am sure we will continue to run the project in the future,” Polanowska said.
Plans for the future: In a recent competition announced by KIGEiT, 25 venues filed applications and as many as 20 of them met the project’s strict criteria, but the committee was only able to financially support six of them. However there are big plans for expansion. By the end of 2015 there should be 200 cinemas in the project and as many as 700 two years later.
To realize his vision, Molewski said, his team plans to cooperate with other voivodships similar to its partnership with Mazowsze, in order to help finance new venues. He believes there is huge potential for small cinemas in Poland, with the key being good venues run by good managers, he said.
Kino za Rogiem has already received a lot of support, both from Poland’s cinematography business and from local authorities in areas where it is already present, Molewski said.
He hopes that the project will not need outside financing in the future. “In a few years time it should be a strong entity, well balanced in financial terms, and not needing to beg for support from authorities,” he said.