City of Zagreb Wants to Close Down Cinema Europa

The City of Zagreb made a decision to close down the Cinema Europa on 1 June 2019 in order to perform unannounced non-transparent renovation. For this reason, they decided not to extend the contract to the current lease holder – Zagreb Film Festival Artistic Organisation who has successfully run Cinema Europa for over ten years.

The Cinema Europa opened its doors after the campaign launched by Zagreb Film Festival and Croatian Film Association under the name Gimme the Cinema in 2006. At that time the cinema was not operating – although it operated 80 years as a cinema since 1925 – and the campaign demanded that the City of Zagreb keep the building as a public space intended for cultural use. Three years later an open call for the lease of the cinema was announced and Zagreb Film Festival Artistic Organisation won a ten year lease (2009-2019). At the time the cinema was empty and derelict and a working plan had to be arranged, from emergency renovation (installations, heating, projection booth, screen, offices etc.) to running everyday cinema programming and screening activities. In the five years to come, ZFF with its partner Propeler Film invested in the space double the amount that was stipulated by the lease contract. In over 30 official letters to the City since then, the Organisation has been proposing three detailed models for further renovation of the cinema building.

In 2018, ZFF launched the procedure of contract extension, in line with the contract and the Lease Act when the lease holder complies with all the contract obligations. In February 2019 the Organisation was granted funds at the open call for City of Zagreb cultural needs (!), but two months later in an official letter the Organisation is asked to permanently hand over the lease to the City after the contract expires on 1 June.

Throwing out Zagreb Film Festival Artistic Organisation from the building on 1 June means a termination of the ongoing programme, a termination of contracts with national and international bodies and dismissing employees and contract associates. It is important to point out that the current model of cinema management, meeting the public cultural need, is completely free of charge for the City. The funds that the City grants to Cinema Europa’s programmes are almost equal to the funds the cinema needs to earn to pay the rent, plus the means for utilities, salaries, office expenses etc., as well as the regular maintenance of the cinema, which the cinema earns independently. The best indicator of Europa’s quality is the Europa Cinemas international honour for the best programming in 2016.

Cinema Europa definitely needs renovation, but the building is a protected heritage site, which means that the renovation includes, among other things, a plan made by an authorised architect in association with conservation specialists, design documents, secured funds in the City budget, applying for European funds, waiting for the results and only then the renovation process can begin. The City budget for this year does not predict means for the renovation, surveying etc., leading to conclude that the worst case scenario of closing down the cinema over an unnecessarily long period of time is pretty certain.

Cinema Europa’s programme is a public need of this city’s culture. At a time when the centre of Zagreb has only a few cinemas that operate as public spaces, we fear that breaking the continuity of the Cinema Europa operations will cause damage to the citizens who frequent the cinema (annually around 100,000 visitors!), numerous cultural events and programmes and the 20 employees of the cinema. Closing down the cinema is a violent termination of the activities of the film community gathered around it; it is a community which launched the cinema, maintained it and attracted all the film lovers. Without a functional cinema there is no functional film community.