Prague: Cinema Tour through one of the European Capitals of Film
May 25, 2019
by Jovana Georgievski
In the 1950s, the director of the Oscar-winning “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus” Milos Forman, one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema, was still just a student in the Czech Republic. He studied at one of the most renowned film schools in the world – FAMU, located in the heart of the old town in Prague.
Some of the cinemas where Forman must have been a frequent guest during his Prague years still offer great programs on a daily basis. Lucerna, (The Lantern), Světozor, (Worldview), Bio Illusion, Ponrepo, Kino Pilotu (The Cinema of Pilots) and Modřanský biograf (The Modran Biographer) are only some of many cinemas in Prague you will want to visit again.
Prague is full of cinemas. Many of them are old, small and would use some wall-paint refreshing, but that only adds up to their charm. The iconic ones among them are not simply places where you come to watch films – in small, crammed Prague cinemas, you are likely to come across many chatty locals, expats, and travelers.
“The films of television when it started, the literature, radio in communist countries, they’re clean as a whistle; there was no violence, no sex, no drugs, nothing”, Forman used to say about the time after the Soviet invasion.
Even though Prague changed a lot since it was controlled by the Soviets, it is still fairly easy to find a cinema in the city that can bring you back to the time of silent films from the beginning of the past century or give you a glimpse to the film archives within the regular program.
Some owners also go the extra mile to help you fall in love with world cinematography — they show films all day long for free!
Founded in 1909, Lucerna is one of the oldest cinemas in the country. It is located in the city center, just a couple of meters from Wenceslas Square. Apart from the movie theater, Lucerna has a café, which is possibly even more popular than the cinema itself. Café Lucerna is one of a few café’s in Prague with a designated smoking area which is not completely in the open, but on a staircase with small wooden tables in front of Café Lucerna. Smoking in the Czech Republic is widely banned from closed spaces, which makes Lucerna café one of a few smokers’ havens in Prague.
Right across the street from Lucerna, Světozor cinema hosted the world’s first interactive movie “Kinoautomat” (1967). This revolutionary cinema piece by Czech director Raduz Činčera was first exhibited in the Czechoslovak Pavillion at World Expo Fair, after which it was installed in Světozor cinema. Hollywood studios were keen to license technology. However, after the Soviet troops marched into Czechoslovakia in December 1968, “Kinoautomat” became the property of the state and the transition has never been made. Today, Světozor offers various program of mainstream and alternative films. Check out the program here.
Světozor has two sister cinemas. One of them is Aero, situated in the industrial part of the town named Žižkov. This cinema also has a small restaurant and a great chef. This is the place to try some traditional Czech food – “utopenec”, the picked sausage that literary translates as “drowned man” with some draft beer. The second Světozor’s sister cinema is Bio OKO, a hip cinema in Letná Park. This spacious socialist park that itself attracts hipsters and local artists, this cinema is the place to visit if you want to meet the people gathered around Prague’s alternative scene.
In case you like vintage films, you really should not miss visiting “Ponrepo”. Situated further down into the Old Town, this cinema is a host to the National Film Archives. This cinema screens mostly older films, from the archive’s collection. Above all, the cinema screens Czech movies (like, really old ones and forgotten by Internet!) with English subtitles. The cinema is situated in a medieval building that once hosted Between’s concert.
Apart from the regular programs, in this cinema, you can watch films for free all day long in the cinema cafe! All you need to do is simply get yourself a beer, take a seat at one of the coffee tables or on the staircase with a pillow under your back and enjoy. Even though this cinema is not in the city center, it is worth the commute.
Founded in 1919, Modřanský biograf was one of the first camera cinemas. Since the films were silent at the beginning of the 20th century, the soundtrack was played by a pianist. However, this cinema had their piano master until August 2002, when the old piano was destroyed in a flood that forced a lot of citizens to evacuate. Today, silent films are still being shown: instead of the pianist, there is a large gramophone. The street in which it is situated is named after the cinema – U Kina Street (meaning “the street with the cinema”).
Apart from these pearls, Prague also has a few Cinema Cities, where you can watch the latest releases with English subtitles. Cinema City in Flora shopping center also offers IMAX 3D experience. Prague also hosts a number of film festivals throughout the year. Check what is on offer around the time when you are planning to visit. One of the most popular ones is definitely Prague Film Music Festival, that has hosted famous names such as Joe Hisaishi (Spirited Away), Elliot Goldenthal (Frida), Craig Armstrong (Love Actually), Harry Gregson-Williams (Shrek), Rachel Portman (Chocolat), Jan Kaczmarek (Finding Neverland), Patrick Doyle (Harry Potter 4) and many more.
Prague is a city where going to the cinema is what is a cinematic experience itself: the old, cracking theater seats, the sound of the gramophone mechanism, the smell of old plush and wood in the halls, people sipping beer and smoking while sitting on the staircase and watching a film – it is hard to remain indifferent to the infatuating atmosphere. And luckily enough – there is no need to.