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The Network - 09/08/2008


Barbara Suhren, fsk Kino, Berlin



Berlin's fsk Kino, which has two screens with 100 and 62 seats, is celebrating its 20th birthday. An interview with exhibitor Barbara Suhren.


What is the history of fsk Kino, and how is its programming made up?


fsk Kino is an art house cinema which opened in 1988. At first it had one theatre with 60 seats. 6 years later we moved to be able to open 2 screens, but stayed in Kreuzberg district, a Berlin neighbourhood inhabited mostly by immigrants and students. Before the Wall came down the neighbourhood was a bit out of the way, but now it's in the centre of town.
The cinema is run by a group of 6 people, all of whom simultaneously act as proprietors, exhibitors and employees. We select films according to their content, and not their possible results. And that is exactly what the artists, filmmakers or film enthusiasts enjoy who come to see them. Our audiences are mostly made up of students, but they are aging with us. Many foreign students and tourists come to see the films we screen in original versions with subtitles.
We've cut down the number of festivals or events we organise in the cinema because there are already so many in Berlin. Three cinemas each with 5 screens do nothing else, for example. Instead, our major goal today is to help films survive by giving them the time necessary to find their audiences. But for the last 9 years we have participated in Britspotting - the British & Irish film festival. It's the only festival we still take part in.
And we participate in BritFilms, organised by AG-Kino Gilde. It's a cycle of British and Irish films geared specifically to school kids.

You're now celebrating your twentieth anniversary. What do you think of the evolution of cinemas? Do independent cinemas still have a place in today's market?


So much has changed! In 1988 when I was writing my dissertation on cinema architecture, the first multiplexes were still in the planning phases. Since then 15 multiplexes have gone up in Berlin, representing around 160 screens. Of course some cinemas have had to close down. And today we also compete with numerous open-air screenings.
The number of films being shown has grown considerably, and most of them have no chance of finding an audience, regardless of how good they are. Reviews published in the newspapers carry less and less weight, and the film pages are increasingly being replaced by sports news.
Practises change, not necessarily for the better. After the European Football Championships in 2008, the cafés bought video projectors and started showing DVDs. That's illegal, but not everyone knows it and people get used to seeing films without having to pay.
And competition is getting stiffer. As soon as an independent film shows promise the mainstream cinemas start showing it and the distributors won't let us have it. Audiences who appreciate independent cinemas are no longer afraid to go to the multiplexes. And the cinema chains purchase more and more films, making things increasingly difficult for independent theatres.

Has your programming evolved as a result? What new tools have you put in place?


We started with a mix of retrospectives, thematic cycles and rare films that we would go get at festivals or film libraries. Today, apart from traditional programming, we've become a preview cinema.
We also show films that have no German distributor. These we go and find abroad, in Switzerland for example. And we have our own distribution company, Peripher.
Of course we've introduced measures to secure audience loyalty. We offer reductions for regular viewers, and send out our monthly programme by post or email.
Apart from practical information on the cinema and programming, our website allows audiences to receive a personalised newsletter telling them when films in a given language will be screened. The site has a playful side, with a competition where tickets can be won. But we also provide resources, and have put online a database with texts on the films we programme, as well as a section recommending certain films for pupils. We've also put pedagogical dossiers for school children online, to the extent possible. Unfortunately we feel people don't make use of this offer as much as they could.

The interview was conducted over the Internet by Jb Selliez
and translated by Emilie Boucheteil.

September 2008
Young audiences: