The final credits rolled and the lights went up for the final time in two historic Kyiv cinemas on 30 September. The sudden closures of both Ukraina and Kinopanorama cinemas have left city cinephiles bereft. However, unlike the groundswell of support to restore the cinema Zhovten in Podil after it was extensively damaged by arson in October 2014, it seems unlikely public outcry will save the central city cinemas.
Despite their historical and cultural value, both premises have long been privatised, and the owners decided to close them whether by coincidence or design – on the same day. Ukraina closed without any formal goodbye with staff requested to pen letters of resignation, while Kinopanorama arranged a farewell evening before the screen dimmed forever.
Rumours had been circulating regarding the fate of Ukraina on Arkhitektora Horodetskoho Street for months, however the announcement of the closure of Kinopanorama on Shota Rustaveli Street came a mere two days before the last-ever screening, catching both the public and staff off-guard.
Kinopanorama was built in 1958 as the first experimental panoramic cinema in the USSR. It soon became known for cultivating an art-house cinema environment with a long history of showing festival films and retrospectives. There were plans to mark its 60th anniversary in November.
Ukraina opened in 1964 as the first widescreen cinema in Kyiv. It was to cement its place in history in 1965 when the premiere of the film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Sergei Parajanov took place. Alongside the premiere, Kyiv intelligentsia staged a protest against a wave of political arrests with luminaries such Ivan Dziuba, Vasyl Stus, Vyacheslav Chornovil and others taking part.
After extensive renovation to bring it up to speed with emerging multiplexes in city malls, Ukraina was unveiled in its current form in 2001. In 2004, the Kyiv City Administration privatised it. The business was bought by Ukrainian partnership Evgeniy Wilgin and Igor Voronov; the building in which the cinema is located, was sold several months ago. The fate of it and the cinema has yet to be disclosed.
Kinopanorama’s fate on the other hand is sealed. Privatised in 2008 and sold to the ISTIL Group led by British-Ukrainian businessman Mohammad Zahoor, it continued functioning as a cinema.
Here is where the story takes on a twist worthy of any cinematic double cross. Coinciding with the dismissal of the cinema’s director Natalia Sobolev, followed by the sacking of all staff on 28 September of this year, the ISTIL Group released a statement, which in part read: “In the face of increased competition in the film market, the commercial use of the cinema in its current state is considered inappropriate. The building, infrastructure, technical capabilities and level of comfort do not meet modern requirements and require a major upgrade. In the future, it is planned to conduct a tender to select a contractor for major repairs of the building with the possibility of its re-engineering, including the possibility of film sales.”
Sounds promising, right? Alas no…
On 9 October, Zahoor stated the cinema would be demolished with a three-star hotel built in its place. In a somewhat token gesture, Zahoor said out of respect for the history of the site, the future hotel will feature a small room for screening movies, as well as functioning as a conference room. It will be called Panorama.
Prior to the revelation of the hotel plans, a group on Facebook was created called Save Kinopanorama and Ukraina Cinemas, the membership quickly surpassed 1 000. On 2 October, the group staged a protest against the closures outside the city administration, supported by directors, film critics, actors, and producers.
Whether this will change the situation is unclear. As, while the public can influence the local and central government, it has less teeth when it comes to private business. This battle is commerce vs culture.