Martin Duffy

Living in Berlin has shown me just what Irish cinema-goers are missing.

Berlin is a city of cinemas. Looking through the cinema listings in the Berlin event magazine 'Zitty', I counted a total of 269 cinema screens in the city. There are cinemas here from the predictable multiplexes to the funky extended livingrooms. The smallest I have been in is 'Lichtblich' in Kastanien Allee. It has thirty one seats. Potsdamer Platz, on the other hand, has several multiplexes. The modern cinemas are an exquisite film experience, but the extra character of the small and eccentric cinemas makes up for their technical shortcomings. And I believe they are the life blood of cinema going.

The proliferation of cinemas here means that films don't come and go in marketing waves but last for months filtering down to other screens around the city. Also, as with places like the culture centre Urania near us at Martin Luther Strasse, there are venues around the city for documentary screenings or for minority audiences. In Urania, in one of its large cinema auditoriums, I saw a documentary that had been shot on video and was being projected onto the large screen direct from a DVD.

Something else exists here that I remember from the old days in Dublin - cheap cinemas. Not too far from us is Cinema am Walter Schreiber Platz. It screens films at the tail end of their run - my wife and I saw 'Goodbye Lenin' there six months after its first release - and all seats cost 2 Euros 50 cents.

There are two cinemas a short walking distance from where I live. One, Odeon, is about the size and style of what was the average suburban cinema in Dublin when I was a kid - it seats about four hundred. Odeon specialises in showing films in 'OV' - original version - and not dubbed into German. The other cinema is Xenon, and it is typical of the slightly greasy but absolutely wonderful cinemas that keeps films alive. It has two screens and I have only been in the main one - which seats maybe a hundred. In quieter moments you hear the neighbouring film. The projection booth is on the same level as the cinema itself, and the one entrance from the foyer is at almost the front row. Anyone looking for a seat once the lights are dimmed and a trailer or the film is on screen becomes silhouetted on the screen.

The cinema experience here is very genial. The small cinemas have wonderful eccentricities and give a sense of cinema-as-corner-store. A very funky fifty-seater cinema - Kino-Erstauffhrung im ACUD Kino in the old East of the city - is on the top floor of a grand old building above a bar, a dance studio, and a night club. When I went there, the sole member of staff, a young man, sold tickets, served drinks and snacks, then went into the projection booth and screened the film. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but most people buy a bottle of beer to take with them into the cosy dark. Smoking is no longer allowed in cinemas, but I can imagine a time when people sat back in cinema as if in a favourite cafe. At the end of a screening, people line up to place their empty bottles in a glass recycle container and their food wrappings in a packaging recycling container.

A very necessary background to this is the existence of small independent distribution companies. My wife worked for one such company, Neuen Visionen, who serve a network of small cinemas and also own three such cinemas (including Lichtblick). This is no path to great wealth or even financial stability. But some people are born to such recklessness. In Ireland, the comparable venture is 'access CINEMA', run by Maretta Dillon. Without the work of access CINEMA and its member groups there would be little opportunity for audiences to see a wider range of cinema and to appreciate what filmmakers from other countries are doing.  access CINEMA associate screens now stand at 28 and they are making a huge contribution in their local areas. Check out their work on

The economics of the multiplexes and giant distribution companies works against cinematic diversity. But a couple of people deciding they are mad enough to run a small cinema together do more for film and filmmakers than mutliplexes shovelling in the money from the latest blockbuster in Dolby Digital Stereo. Maybe Ireland needs to import a stock of shaggy, chain smoking, beer drinking Berliners who are happy to make a precarious living running a small cinema where the tickets are cheap, the beer is expensive, and the film experience is all. Or does Ireland already have such people waiting for their opportunity?

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