Romanian Filmmakers Launch Campaign to Stop Cinema Closures

Bogdan Craciun - H 2014
Nick Holdsworth

Bogdan Craciun - H 2014

The country, which has produced an internationally acclaimed new wave of filmmakers, has lost more than 400 cinemas to closure and neglect over the past 20 years.

CLUJ, ROMANIA -- Romanian filmmakers have launched a campaign to save the country's fast disappearing single screen cinemas.

The campaign -- "Save the Big Screen" -- aims to prevent the further closure of state-owned theaters and rebuild a network of urban art house cinemas to help revive the distribution of domestic films.

More than 400 cinemas have closed down since Romania's revolution 25 years ago, leaving the country with just 30 single screen, downtown theaters and more than three quarters of towns and cities without a cinema.

Construction of new, privately-owned out of town multiplexes have made up for some of the loss of screens, but organizers of the campaign argue that those cinemas rarely show arthouse or locally-made films.

Under Communism, Romania's cinemas were all state-owned. Following the fall of the Ceaucescu regime in 1989, public funding for distribution and exhibition all but disappeared and cinemas were closed or converted to other uses. Many were simply abandoned and left to rot.

Ironically, the loss of coincided with a period when Romanian filmmakers have achieved worldwide recognition for films such as Cristian Mungui's Cannes Golden Palm-winning film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

"The situation for distributors of domestic films has become so acute that we are forced to use mobile cinemas to get our films out to audiences around the country," Tudor Giurgiu, founder of Bucharest production company Libra Film and head of the Transilvania International Film Festival, told The Hollywood Reporter.

The campaign aims to raise awareness and put pressure on the government to ensure that at least a dozen cinemas are restored and digitalized within the next two years.

Although a much bigger country than nearby Croatia -- Romania has a population of 21 million compared with Croatia's 4 million -- Giurgiu believes experience there offers a blueprint for the way ahead.

In Croatia, where art house cinemas were facing a similar trajectory as those in Romania, the Croatian Audio Visual Center lobbied officials for a $2.7 million grant towards the cost of installing digital equipment across 30 cinemas. Matching funds were raised from sponsors and the theaters themselves and contracts drawn up guaranteeing that in return for the modernization program the theaters would stick to quotas on screening European and local movies.

The size of the deal meant that when it was put out for tender the AV Center was able to negotiate a 45 percent discount on normal prices.

It was a move that AV Center director Hrvoje Hribar credits with helping put Croatia back on the map as a location too: the country has attracted a raft of project, helped also by a 20 percent tax incentive, that include TV series Game of Thrones and Borgias.

The Transilvania festival, which wraps its 13th edition Saturday with a gala ceremony where American actress Debra Winger will be presented with a lifetime achievement award, is also backing a local initiative in its home city of Cluj to restore an abandoned state film depot for use as a screening venue and, eventually, a museum of Romanian cinema.

Since it was abandoned eight years ago 35 mm prints of films have been strewn in and around the vandalised buildings.

The depository was the venue Thursday for a special open air screening of extracts from a new documentary Giugiu is producing about the plight of Romania's lost theaters, Cinema Mon Amour.

Guests at the screening, which included Winger, were shown around the depository, where hundreds of reels of abandoned 35 mm prints lie rotting in and around the buildings. Romanian subtitled prints of mid 1990s Hollywood movies that included Titanic and Mars Attacks! were identifiable among the piles of prints and loose negatives.