The charm of old cinema in Belgrade

It’s still possible to experience the old-fashioned magic of cinema in Belgrade, where even a trip to the movies offers a glimpse into history.

Sitting in an intimate 50-seat cinema with rickety chairs and screens that are relatively small in comparison with the grand modern theatres of today may not sound appealing on first hearing, but these retro features are part of the charm of the Tuckwood Cineplex movie theatre (Kneza Milosa 7a) in central Belgrade.

This classic, cosy little cinema is reminiscent of a museum, with movie memorabilia adorning the walls and an art deco entranceway and ticket booth. Straight out of yesteryear, Tuckwood is one of my three favourite movie houses in Belgrade, and one of the few remaining in the city which still conjure up the romanticised image of a night at the cinema.

Opened in 1999, it was the first film house to pop up in Belgrade after Yugoslavia’s collapse in the early 1990s, which also spelled the end of its thriving film industry that had become an integral part of the country’s culture.

Tuckwood started operating at a time when cinema was dying in the country. Privatisation was wreaking havoc on the old film theatres, which were rapidly being sold off, and Serbia’s once celebrated art and culture scene fell by the wayside.

A prime example is the demise of all but one of the old art nouveau and Bauhaus cinemas that were owned by the Beograd Film network.

The sole survivor among them, Zvezda (Terazije 40), was bought along with the network’s 13 other venues by a Serbian businessman in 2007, but despite promises to restore some of them to their former glory, they ended up either boarded up or converted for other purposes.

In 2014, the then-dilapidated Zvezda was rescued by a group of activists who took it over and proclaimed it their own. Two years later, they continue to occupy the cinema, but legal issues remain and a lack of funds means the venue is far from being restored to its former glory.

However, watching a film in Belgrade’s oldest film house, opened in 1911, is a very unique experience. Walking down the long corridor to the cinema hall is like entering a time warp propelling you back to the 1970s, where you’ll be met with brown, cushioned seats and dark wood paneling on the walls. The screenings here are often of cult classics from across the decades, and there is something intriguingly post-apocalyptic about sitting in this dimly-lit, dusty theatre.

Not far from Zvezda, the Dom Sindikata movie theatre (Decanska 14) is another blast from the past. Located in the Great Hall of the old Trade Union House, it screened its first film not long after the building opened in 1957. Since then, countless concerts, theatre shows and premieres have been held here. Outside, the retro popcorn kiosk acts as a sort of entrance sign, and is an endearing feature.

However, due to an ongoing privatisation issue, the future of the Dom Sindikata hall is uncertain, but here’s hoping it doesn’t succumb to the fate of many of Belgrade’s other cinemas.

(Balkan Insight, 21.12.2016)

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