Away from the mainstream What Beuel's cinemas have to offer

The Covid pandemic posed great challenges for the cultural scene. But the teams at the cinemas in the Brotfabrik and the Neue Filmbühne kept on going. And they offer more than just going to the movies.

 Jürgen Lütz at the Neue Filmbühne.

Jürgen Lütz at the Neue Filmbühne.

Foto: Benjamin Westhoff

For more than 40 years, the Neue Filmbühne in Beuel has been showing non-mainstream films, including arthouse productions, documentaries and foreign-language films. But things were tough for the cultural sector during the Covid pandemic. Theatre director Jürgen Lütz looks back on a difficult time: "Without state support, we probably wouldn't have survived the pandemic". The lockdowns were marked by one particular experience: "We kept showing films regularly in order to keep the equipment running," says Lütz. Two people per screening meant a whole new level of exclusivity at the cinema.

The team also used the forced pause for self-reflection: "We asked ourselves: What makes us special? What do we want to offer our audience?" says the director. One outcome is a bigger focus on films in original language with subtitles, in an effort to counter the trend towards streaming services.

With 41,000 tickets sold in 2023, the cinema is back to pre-pandemic levels. "We are regaining people's trust," says a confident Lütz. However, older audiences in particular are still reluctant to return to the cinema.

Sophisticated programme and diverse events

The theatre director appreciates the high demand for sophisticated cinema and the openness of Bonn's audiences to new films and genres. The city is characterised by a particularly well-educated audience, Lütz believes. The flagship of the current programme is the Holocaust drama "Zone of Interest", which was filmed in Poland: "The film shows in a unique way how this dark period of history was ignored for a long time by the ruling powers."

After the credits roll, the screen doesn't always go dark. Often, at special events or film festivals, there are discussions about what has just been seen. Audiences talk with directors and other event organisers to exchange ideas and gain new perspectives. The cinema also works with schools. "Today, school screenings are the only way to show young people that film can be more than just entertainment and something to do to pass the time," says Lütz.

Fewer events, but a loyal audience

Ulrich Klinkerz and Sigrid Limprecht at the cinema in the Brotfabrik.

Ulrich Klinkerz and Sigrid Limprecht at the cinema in the Brotfabrik.

Foto: Benjamin Westhoff

In addition to its regular film screenings, the cinema in the Brotfabrik offers a varied programme that appeals to film lovers and cineastes alike.

The popular event series Kinosophie, Queer Monday and Bicycle Cinema are back after the pandemic. The association also takes films to other locations in Bonn. For instance, in summer there are the popular film evenings at the Friesdorf open-air swimming pool, and audiences can enjoy the sunset over the city at film evenings on the roof of the Bundeskunsthalle.

Three events a day - that was the cinema's schedule before the first lockdown. But declining demand, social distancing regulations and hygiene concepts put a stop to that. Fewer films, fewer encounters, fewer exchanges. Despite the challenges, the will to carry on remained unbroken, says Sigrid Limprecht, chairwoman of the board of the Bonner Kinemathek, which runs the cinema. The number of visitors has now increased again. "But we have decided to keep the reduced programme of two screenings a day," says Limprecht.

Despite the restrictions during the pandemic, a large part of the cinema's audience remained loyal, says board member Ulrich Klinkerz, who saw the crisis primarily as an opportunity for some innovations, for instance an online ticketing system to enable contactless sales. His team has also revamped the organisation's website and expanded its social media channels. "We recognised the importance of professional communication and developed a well-thought-out concept: For our programme, our website, the newsletter and also for Facebook and Instagram," says Klinkerz.

The pandemic showed cinema operators how important it is to be flexible and innovative, says Limprecht. To move forward, the entrenched structures in the film industry need to be questioned more closely, she believes, and one of the association's most important goals is to improve cooperation with distributors and filmmakers. "We want cinemas to earn more fairly from their work," says Limprecht. She also calls for more transparency and flexibility in working together. However, these efforts often fail because of rigid structures in the industry. "Saying 'It's always been like that' is not an acceptable excuse," Limprecht stresses.

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