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Arthouse profiles

Casablanca Filmkunsttheater, Nuremberg

Matthias Damm

June 2017

An old-fashioned venue offering innovative and brave programming.

Casablanca Filmkunsttheater, Nuremberg

The Casablanca Cinema is a place that seems like a time machine; located in an old building, once a print shop, with old metal windows, large mirrors in a small foyer and a giant black wooden buffet behind an old bar. It is a building where space is not optimized or neatly planned, but where everything looks as if it has been in place for decades, and nobody is willing to change it. The projectionists change paper posters every night and display the movie titles in black plastic lettering on old-fashioned displays. It is a place that doesn’t seem to have changed much in the last 40 years.

But, in fact, the Casablanca has changed a lot since its opening in 1976 and has recently celebrated its 40th birthday (September 2016). In 1976 when Casablanca opened multiplexes did not exist. Many films were not screened in Nuremberg at all – the two and later three screens in the Casablanca were a game-changer for movie goers. However, in 2009, the end of the Casablanca was announced – the former manager did not want to keep the venue open, with sinking figures and the dawn of digital cinema on the horizon.

A small group of film enthusiasts stepped up to save the Casablanca

It was then that a small group of film enthusiasts stepped up, to save the Casablanca – with no expertise, but big (and very naïve) plans. With almost no money, but with good contacts in the city and across the cultural sector, they took up the challenge. As the former owner had removed much of the equipment, old chairs from a theatre were installed, walls were plastered and painted, the grotesque toilettes were replaced, the remaining 35mm machinery was serviced properly, for the first time in a decade, and simple digital projection equipment was installed.

The cinema was re-opened just months after its closure, still with no real plan for the future, as the digital age loomed and large sums of money were needed. A large sponsorship of 250,000 euros from a local bank came as the deus ex machina and, together with many large and small sums from Casablanca fans, this money enabled the enthusiasts to do basic work with what was there, buy decent chairs and finer technical equipment.

Today, the Casablanca has two full-time employees, more than 20 part-timers across projection and service, a large group of volunteers who sell tickets, organize events and keep operations running, as well as more than 900 members in their registered non-profit association. When the age of digitization arrived in 2012, top-notch digital cinema equipment was installed, including 3D in two theatres.

The old neon sign over the entrance announcing “Lichtspiele” (an old-fashioned German word for cinema shows) was re-built – like many things in the new Casablanca – and it keeps a promise that things will stay the way they are.
The name of the cinema is now accompanied by the claim “Kino mit Courage” (Cinema with courage – with the word having both aspects of “bravery” and “spiritedness” in German).

Some screenings are held with a subdued light for people who like to knit during the film.

Today, the city has more than 25 mainstream cinema screens, most of them in the biggest cinema complex in Europe, the Cinecittá. Still, the Casablanca (with just 160 seats, across its three small screening rooms) not only survives but now flourishes, with rising numbers in admissions, more than 100 first-run films, over 250 different films screened each year, and with guests and special events every week.

The Casablanca is a niche venue and is always on the lookout for new niches; some are them obvious, like screenings of quality movies for children, films for the queer community, short films and co-produced events with all sorts of cultural and political groups, while others are more bizarre, like hosting the Nuremberg Bike Film Festival every year or hosting screenings for people who like to knit during a show, where the lights stay on, but dimmed during the film.

It is a very satisfying way of working, to know that you do not have to screen every predictable or boring but crowd-pleasing blockbuster, and can look for the gems in the incredibly vast number of films released each year. This includes films from all over the world, but has a sharp focus on productions from Europe.

Why not see mainstream movies from a completely different perspective and discuss them with interesting guests?

In 2016 – a year with a slight decrease in admissions, but still very good when compared to the national market – films like COMME UN AVION by Bruno Podalydès and the Icelandic film HRÙTAR by Grímur Hákonarson ranked among the top 10, which was led by two German productions, TSCHICK by Fatih Akin and TONI ERDMANN by Maren Ade.

It is extremely satisfying to be able to try out new ideas. Why not set up a weekend with films about psychoanalysis? Why not install 3D and screen not only mainstream family movies but art films which are not screened anywhere else? Why not see mainstream movies from a completely different perspective and discuss them with interesting guests? Why not screen a Sneak Preview and offer not only French comedies but films like Remainder or Elle? All this can happen within the old walls of the Casablanca. It’s a lot of work – but it pays off.

Matthias Damm, Director