Cinemas Are Here to Stay
Interview with Monica Sebestyen, Cinema ARTA
What is special about Cinema ARTA? How would you introduce your cinema to someone who has never visited?
ARTA is an independent arthouse cinema in Cluj, Romania. It is a place where one can enjoy diverse films and cultural events in a special setting. In the Romanian context, where there are extremely few arthouse cinemas, it is unique. ARTA’s present identity is built on a very long history, combining the past with newer approaches. This identity is reflected by both the architectural design, which blends preserved art deco elements with contemporary ones, and by the programming, which includes classical and the newest films.
We screen newly released arthouse films, but what is special about our program are our curated series. These screenings focus on certain directors or on significant topics in society, and aim to raise awareness and provoke reflection. We also host important local festivals such as the Transylvanian International Film Festival and Filmtett Feszt, and we develop programs in partnerships with Cluj’s cultural organisations and universities. We’re also part of various international cultural networks and stay connected with the international cinema community via shared projects and partnerships. In addition, along the auditorium of ARTA, we have a small art gallery and a café.
The current program of curated films, educational programs, international projects, concerts and exhibitions, aims to create meaningful cultural experiences which unite and inspire those attending the events.
Cinema ARTA has been open since 1913, surviving for more than a century of turbulent political and social history. What do you think has been the secret of your cinema’s longevity?
It is hard to say how we have survived for more than a century. Maybe it is a combination of luck and ARTA’s importance for the community. The cinema was built by my grandfather’s grandfather. It was nationalized when the communist regime came to power in 1948, and became part of the national network of cinemas. After 1989, there was a long property restitution trial. In 2011, the cinema was returned to the family and we began to develop it as a significant cultural center for the city.
The building itself, a historical monument, survived, like most of the important buildings in the center. Interestingly, throughout this period, the building kept its primary function, continuing to operate as a cinema, which is something that did not happen with other cinemas in the country. The former employees said that this was the favorite cinema of many, where people preferred to come for arthouse films, and for its beautiful space. So probably, it has been the audience that has somehow kept the cinema alive. However, despite this turbulent history, the technical advancements that make movies available everywhere and now the pandemic, cinemas are here to stay. We are also a proof of the essential role that cinemas have consistently played for our cities and communities in the last 100 years.
Film education, through your CineKids programme, seems to be a key aspect of the work you do. Can you tell us more about why bringing film to young audiences is important to you?
Indeed, we have several programs dedicated to young audiences. We have the Family Time public screenings during the weekend, CineKids and other programmes dedicated to film education for children and teenagers, which focus mainly on schools. Education is an important aspect of our program. In today’s society, we believe audiovisual knowledge plays a key role in education and personal development, allowing us to better understand the world and to discern between the deluge of information and messages to which we are constantly exposed.
The official school curriculum doesn’t include cinema classes, so our CineKids, Family Time and other educational projects serve as a kind of band-aid to compensate for this. We are part of different European educational programs such as CinEd, in which we develop resources and methodologies at an international level, which we then implement locally. These programs include workshops for classes, but also for teachers where we give them tools to use film education in the classroom. At the same time, in a society in which children are used to spending a lot of time isolated in front of their screens, we want to emphasize the importance of watching films in a cinema, in a collective way.
In your opinion, what is so valuable about viewing films communally?
In the past, we experienced multiple technological and societal shifts, thinking that these moments would bring the end of cinema. First the invention of the TV, then the arrival of videocassette, then the spread of online streaming and piracy. All these innovations have been seen as threats to the continued existence of cinemas. But despite this, cinemas have continued to thrive, which for me proves that seeing a film in a cinema cannot be replaced by other means. Of course, it is becoming harder to bring the audience into the auditorium and special programs are needed, but cinema can constantly reinvent itself, and adapt to the current situation.
There is something magical about cinema – gathering with others to experience emotions together in a dark room. At ARTA, we aim to foster this togetherness by creating an environment where people can meet and connect. I see the cinema as a framework, a space that allows this to happen, while films are a starting point for discussions and the exchange of ideas.
Monica Sebestyen is responsible for the reactivation of Cinema ARTA in Cluj-Napoca, one of the few arthouse cinemas in Romania. She is also co-founder and co-director of the UrbanEye Film Festival, Bucharest. She believes in the impact of culture on societal and urban development, spending the last 10 years developing various cultural projects focused mainly on film, but also on art, architecture, and education.