Return of Kinoautomat

On 11 January, MfD reported that a new exhibit at the National Film Theatre in London would include Radúz Činčera's Kinoautomat (here's the full Czech text).

This from the British Czech and Slovak Association website:

A huge hit at EXPO 67 in Montreal, Kinoautomat is the first ever interactive cinema system created by a talented ensemble of Czech New Wave filmmakers. It centres on the hapless Mr. Novák who finds himself caught up in various situations which represent moral dilemmas. In a specially ‘voting cinema’, the audience members could alter the trajectory of the film at key intersections. As a part of the original experience, [Miroslav] Horníček himself would act out a moderating role, providing a human interface to the film's branching structure. The film was last presented in 1974 making this the first production of Kinoautomat for 31 years.

As you've probably noticed, interactive cinema never really took off, although it has inspired projects like Cause and Effect, a hybrid between cinema and live theatre, which premiered in Finland in 2002.

Mark Naimark caught up with Činčera in 1998 when the latter was working on the ill-fated St. Michael's Mystery. Naimark had previously written about Činčera in a 1997 paper called Interactive Art - Maybe It's a Bad Idea, in which he also touches on Činčera's Cinelabyrinth.

A new project to bring the kinoautomat experience to DVD received CZK 300,000 from the State Fund for the Support and Development of Czech Cinematography in 2004.


Pretty skeptical

Two Indian news sources, WebIndia123 and NewKerala, have picked up a DPA report (which I can't find anywhere) that Frekvence 1 reported that Julia Roberts will appear in a film adaptation of Lolly Winston's Good Grief. Michael Cunningham is reportedly working on the script for Universal Pictures. And yet, it all seems unlikely.


Last Holiday

Wayne Wang's remake of the 1950 Alec Guiness comedy opens 13 January in the U.S. ContactMusic.com has a snippet from Wang. The film shot at Barrandov Studios Hostivar stages and on location at the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary. Wang says the Pupp was 'nice but sparse': 'It was a bit like (the hotel in) The Shining.'

(Personally, I think he's being a little harsh on the Pupp. Interior hotel shots for The Shining were shot at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where I got married in 1993. I haven't been back since, but the Pupp is looking considerably better than the Stanley did at the time.)

I also visited the set for Last Holiday. Barrandov had recreated Pupp interiors at Hostivar as well as a portion of the facade of the hotel for a balcony shot. Opposite the hotel hung a huge screen backdrop of Karlovy Vary superimposed beneath the Alps. While KV plays itself in the film, the producers take advantage of certain audiences' ignorance of geography to turn it into an alpine ski resort.


Shut Up and Shoot Me

Reading the Czech press lately, you have to wonder if maybe all the country's small exhibitors need to be put out of their misery. On Saturday, the Central Bohemia edition of Mladá fronta Dnes published the latest in a series of stories about the woes of small movie houses. No earth-shaking reporting here, just a round up of what some local exhibitors are experiencing. Here's the full text in Czech.

The story reports that the little guys' box-office numbers are way down and have been falling for a long time. They're trying to lure viewers back by investing in new comfy seats, sound systems and air-conditioning. A lot of these little cinemas are municipally owned and are accustomed to being subsidised (ah, socialism). Some towns are shutting their movie houses down, while others, like Kraslice, are downsizing.

Only one exhibitor interviewed for the story, Pavel Volf, one of the operators of the Hutník cinema in Kladno, blames a poor crop of titles. Several exhibitors name Román pro ženy and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as the best-attended films of the year.

Volf says his theatre is considering offering DVD rentals and asking local firms to subsidise tickets as a benefit for their employees. Suggestion: Hand out seat cushions. And free beer.
Or maybe loaded pistols.


More multiplex-induced drama for exhibitors

An article by Petra Pospěchová in the 2 January issue of Týden holds multiplexes responsible for the collapse of traditional 'biograf' cinemas. (See full Czech text here.)

The article focuses on Olomouc, where a CineStar multiplex opened in November. The opening of the multiplex was behind schedule, but CineStar had exclusive rights to the premieres, which meant that Olomouc moviegoers had to wait weeks to see films that had opened elsewhere in the country. "We managed to work in only a few pictures in time, when the distributor offered them to us at the last minute," said Jan Joukal, director of Olomouc Cinemas.

Jana Borde Kalinova from distributor Falcon told Týden that multiplexes like CineStar get the premieres because that's where the money comes from. Fair enough. But Jiří Králík, director of the Summer Film School and also head of a cinema in Uherské Hradiště, says the situation in reversed – that the money is at the multiplexes because they get the premieres. Králík sees a cartel situation, wherein distributors take a larger percentage of the sales at the biograf cinemas that from the multiplexes.

The number of Czech cinemas has dropped by half in the last 15 years, Týden claims. At the beginning of the 1990s, there were more than 1300 cinemas; by the end of 2004 that number had fallen to 544. Among these were 15 multiplexes with 137 screens. Týden notes that some of the old-fashioned cinemas had shuttered even before the arrival of the multiplexes.

CineStar director Jan Bradáč rejects the notion that multiplexes could destroy the Czech cinema landscape. According to him the problem for single-screen cinemas is that they aren't able to stand up in the current competitive environment. (Týden fails to note that Bradáč is also director of distributor Falcon.)

Králík says small cinemas are afraid to speak up. "If someone protests the current situation, the distributors make his life difficult. And it will be hard to take the chance," he said, adding that the multiplexes behaving arrogantly. "On Thursday 15 December we didn't play, because the multiplex failed to deliver our copy of Harry Potter, which we had under contract," he told Tyden.

The magazine says it’s the consumers who win in this battle. Apparently most moviegoers visit multiplexes and indie houses. (Imagine!) One Olomoucer said he likes the multiplex's better sound, bigger screen and comfortable seats, but for 'independent films' he prefers the 'chamber environment' of a small cinema.

Týden lists an honour roll of fallen cinemas: in Olomouc, the Central and the Lípa (Pospěchová throws in a lovely detail about the latter, 'on whose darkened balcony generations of locals have made out [muchlovat] and drank too much'). In Dobřany, České Budějovice, Hradec Králové and Plzeň, other small houses have closed after CineStar opened multiplexes nearby. Exhibitors in Liberec are dreading they're next.

The article concludes by noting that small cinemas get some state support, but not much, and that the Czech parliament is supposed to take up an amendment in January that would raise ticket prices to generate more funds that could, possibly, maybe, in part help beleaguered small exhibitors.


Kraslice seeks to revive traditional cinema

The Karlovy Vary issue of Právo reports today that the Kraslice city hall has begun looking for someone to take over the town's recently closed cinema. The city is now in discussion with a firm that is trying to revive traditional 'biograf' cinemas in smaller towns. Here's the full Czech text of the article as posted on the UFD site.

Právo doesn't name the firm or give details about the closed cinema. The report does indicate that it was city hall that formerly ran the cinema, but that they gave up because it was losing too much money. Presumably the cinema was in the town's culture center.

Films could be screened in Kraslice's culture center on the puppet stage. Another solution could be digital screenings. These would help Kraslice get new films sooner, according to Kraslice mayor Lubomír Zach. The city would first have to buy new digital equipment, which would run about CZK 500,000.

There have been a slew of stories in the press lately about the plight of small cinemas facing competition from multiplexes. I'll post more of them here as time allows.

Just Like That

Saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe last night. I was a huge fan of the books as a child, so I was very apprehensive about the film adaptation. Happily director Andrew Adamson (Shrek 2) remained, I think, very true to the spirit and tone of C.S. Lewis' book. I recommend it.

There was a funny moment in the screening I went to. Near the end of them film, we see Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy as grown kings and queens. As we saw Peter's beard, the women's flowing gowns and everyone's feathered hair, you could everyone in the audience snickering as they realised the Pevensie children grew up to become Abba.

Whose movie is it anyway?

Lidove noviny film editor Darina Křivánková says good riddance to the Czech films of 2005. She points out that a record 22 films will be competing for the 2005 Czech Lions, the Czech equivalent of the Oscars, but that most of them stink -- including some produced with the help of the state fund for the development and support of Czech cinematography.

Unfortunately, Křivánková writes, 2006 isn't off to a better start, judging by two new releases this month: Ještě žiju s věšákem, plácačkou a čepicí ('Still Living', opened 5 January) and Jak se krotí krokodýli ('How to Ride Crocodiles', opens 12 January). 'Still Living' was produced by public broadcaster Česká televize, which received support from the state fund for the project. 'Crocodiles' was produced by private broadcaster TV Nova, savings bank Poštovní spořitelna and energy utility RWE Transgas, among others. It's one thing if private investors like Nova want to help produce crap films, Křivánková writes, but it's quite another to spend public funds on them.


Kapa ga nossa?

I'm starting to think some of the lunatic spam I get is in code (either that or lunacy can be spread by computer virus). Take the following excerpt from one I got tonight:

One often contradicts an opinion when what is uncongenial is really the tone in which it was conveyed. Happiness is an agreeable sensation, arising from contemplating the misery of others.Hugs can do great amounts of good -- especially for children.
Blood will tell, but often it tells too much.

If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.
It is as healthy to enjoy sentiment as to enjoy jam.
Information is a negotiator's greatest weapon.

Loony? Or is that just what they want you to think?

And while you're getting out the tinfoil hats, this would be a good time to note that Scott has a theory that the Nigerian Fraud emails are computer generated. That's right -- the web has achieved sentience, and it's spamming you.