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The reopened cinemas in Ukraine offer sanctuary from reality – and from airstrikes

#reopened #cinemas #Ukraine #offer #sanctuary #reality #airstrikes

From Hollywood blockbusters to high-profile film noir, the big screen offers a few hours’ respite in a dark sanctuary from the everyday grind of the nine to five.

But Ukrainian moviegoers have literally begun to seek shelter in underground screenings that offer shelter from the ever-present threat of missiles from above.

After February’s Russian invasion shut down cinemas nationwide and halted production, the country’s resilient film industry is making a tentative comeback.

KINO42 in downtown Kyiv is one of around 20 of the city’s 50 or so cinemas that have reopened in recent weeks. As the only underground cinema in the capital, it is a unique offer for film fans who fear air raids.

The screen – which has 42 seats some four meters (13 feet) below street level – reopened in June, its schedule of upcoming screenings displayed on a backlit panel above the newly added words “Cinema Shelter.”

“It’s literally a cinema shelter because it’s in a basement,” Ilko Gladshtein, a partner with the company, told AFP at the recent launch of its program of Ukrainian classics.

The theatre, which opened in 2019, has always been underground – but while this was once an unremarkable aspect of its architecture, it has become a “unique selling point”, according to Gladshtein.

“KINO42 is currently the safest cinema in Kyiv. We don’t stop showings during airstrikes,” he told AFP.

– Sold out –

The 37-year-old film festival executive and film producer was surprised by the size of the evening audience, despite the schedule being brought forward to allow for a wartime 11pm curfew.

“June is a tough month for film distribution but I can see people are hungry for films. We held three charity shows and donated around $1,000 to the Ukrainian army,” he said.

“It gives us the confidence to know that we’re not just entertaining people, we’re doing something important for the troops on the front lines.”

Unlike multiplexes that show the big Hollywood releases of the time, KINO42 has always prioritized Ukrainian cinema, and preserving the country’s cultural identity has become particularly important since the invasion.

The venue has partnered with the Dovzhenko Centre, the country’s largest film archive, expanding from one weekly showing to three, all of which are sold out.

At an opening event last Thursday, KINO42 screened Odd, Bizarre and Fantastic, a series of animated short films from the 1980s and 1990s, tickets for which were bought every three days before the screening.

Stanislav Bitiutskiy, a 38-year-old researcher at the Dovzhenko Center, says that any social or political disaster forces a nationwide reckoning on Ukrainian identity.

“It first happened during the Maidan revolution,” he told AFP, describing the aftermath of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces in 2014 that led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.

“Now we must once again redefine our identity through art.”

– ‘Another Reality’ –

A little further down the road, the much larger above-ground Zhovten Picture House – which is nearly a century old – was among the first of Kiev’s reopened venues.

The multi-screen theater sold out a 400-seat auditorium on the opening night of its Ukrainian classics program with a screening of Sergey Paradzhanov’s 1965 work Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.

“We wanted to support both the country’s economy and the mental well-being of the people,” said its director Yulia Antypova, 46.

“Psychologists say that this kind of mental decompression and the opportunity to escape into another reality is extremely important.”

Here, the possibility of missile attacks is a constant threat.

Zhovten pauses the performances for 20 minutes when the sirens start and asks the audience to go to a nearby dugout.

If the warning lasts longer, the screening will be canceled and customers will be asked to come back with their tickets on another day.

The return to the big screen was gradual, with ticket sales accounting for about 30 percent of pre-war numbers.

Visitor numbers drop every time a Russian missile hits a civilian area.

“However, the human psyche is quite resilient,” says Antypova. “Visitor numbers will recover in a few days – until the next strike.”

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