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Film Clubs fill void created by Hollywood overkill

A quick check of the movies offered in Bratislava theatres over the upcoming weeks reveals 23 choices. Of those 23 films, 21 were made in America, ranging in character from the wildly experimental Fight Club to the less cerebral Gone in Sixty Seconds, a film about handsome car thieves. As is the case in most countries on planet Earth, America has achieved a near stranglehold on Slovak cinema.
Fortunately, 'near' is the operative word here. Thanks to the efforts of Slovakia's film clubs, other films - such as smaller-budget, more artistic foreign and domestic works, movies which are less Hollywood and often more intelligent - are offered to those in the viewing public who crave a bit more than guns, dinosaurs, and more guns in their film-going experience. Such films appeal to groups of loyal viewers too small in number to be catered to by commercial theatres.


Movies like The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie, are frequently shown at Slovak film clubs.
Courtesy Association of Slovak Film Clubs

A quick check of the movies offered in Bratislava theatres over the upcoming weeks reveals 23 choices. Of those 23 films, 21 were made in America, ranging in character from the wildly experimental Fight Club to the less cerebral Gone in Sixty Seconds, a film about handsome car thieves. As is the case in most countries on planet Earth, America has achieved a near stranglehold on Slovak cinema.

Fortunately, 'near' is the operative word here. Thanks to the efforts of Slovakia's film clubs, other films - such as smaller-budget, more artistic foreign and domestic works, movies which are less Hollywood and often more intelligent - are offered to those in the viewing public who crave a bit more than guns, dinosaurs, and more guns in their film-going experience. Such films appeal to groups of loyal viewers too small in number to be catered to by commercial theatres.

While in the minority, the Slovak demand for cinematic alternatives has been strong enough to drive expansion. Film clubs grew precipitously in the 90's in both number and membership. In 1993 there were 28 clubs in Slovakia with a total membership of 11,769. By 1999 those numbers totalled 46 and 21,651. Bratislava alone has eight clubs of varying sizes and styles.

"People are fed up with American films," said Eva Bosáková, executive secretary of the Association of Slovak Film Clubs, a non-profit organisation that provides film clubs with prints and coordinates distribution. "Some people think American films are the only ones that exist. But other people want to see films that are more artistic."

The association stays afloat through donations and some support from the Slovak Culture Ministry. Profits from ticket revenues go into the purchasing and leasing of new films, or in upgrading new equipment: decisions are made by a seven-member committee that works in conjunction with their Czech counterparts. The association owns over 40 films and currently offers its members around 200 choices.

"We place an emphasis on European films of higher artistic value rather than blockbusters," said Bosáková. During the year ending in 1999, she said Slovak film clubs showed 64% foreign European films, 22% Czech and Slovak films, and a handful of American titles.

In general clubs show one, perhaps two movies a week, with tickets about half the price of those at a regular theatre. Membership, which costs 50 crowns, is good for one year (starting in September when students return to school) and valid at any film club in Slovakia. Most members of film clubs are in their 20's, many are students.

"I go to film clubs because they're cheaper and they play older or higher quality films," said a film-club viewing student from Commenius University after watching The Eighth Day, a French film about a man's experience with a teenager with Down's syndrome. "I have been a film club member for five years. I go about twice a month especially for Czech, French and Latin American movies."

Despite the enthusiasm of loyal members, low ticket prices and relatively low attendance means that owning or running a film club remains a labour of love. "Movies are my business and hobby," said Daniela Hýrošová, co-owner and manager of Bioscop Ltd., a firm that owns eight movie theatres in Bratislava and two film clubs, Mladosť and Muzeum. "Film clubs earn little or no money. But I think it is important to balance the type of films available in Bratislava."

Hýrošová's two clubs illustrate the varying sizes and technology of film clubs. Located next door to the City Muzeum of Bratislava), Muzeum Club's tiny screen and scrunched seating give the audiences the feel of lounging in someone's living room. Mladosť, which is a normal theatre six days out of seven, is also smallish, but has air-conditioning, new seats and Dolby Surround Sound. Another Bratislava Club, Nostalgia on Radlinskeho ulica, has one of the biggest theatres in Bratislava, showing movies in a large, university auditorium.

Aside from regular scheduling, the Association of Slovak Film Clubs organises festivals highlighting works from specific countries and directors, or ones dealing with a specific topic or theme. They also lend their prints to other festivals. At the music festival Pohada (July 21 and 22 in Trenč'n) 14 film from the association's collection will be shown every two hours all night long on two separate screens.


Additional reporting done
by Zuzana Habšudová

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