In 2007, alongside many previously state-owned Serbian companies, “Belgrade Film”, owning 14 movie theaters in Belgrade, went from public to private hands. The cinema halls were then closed down, leaving Belgrade with only a few, privately owned cinemas – and most of them located in shopping malls. But luckily, a group of young people found this grim situation intolerable. These young artists are refusing to accept the decay of cultural infrastructure, as well as Serbian cinematography itself. The somewhat-guerilla organization Occupy Cinemas Movement broke into the abandoned cinema “Zvezda”, and set up donation-driven movie projections.
Before long, this action gained massive support, from cultural organizations, state institutions and the general public; many volunteers joined the cause as well. The cinema, forgotten for ten years, was in a critical state: the ceiling was falling out, the toilets were not functional and the space required thorough cleaning. All this and more is being fixed by the volunteers during the day; and in the evening, movie projections are being held, using old celluloid tapes found at the cinema. There is no fixed price for the cinema, as everybody is invited to help, financially or physically, in any way they find appropriate.
The organizers of the occupation say they will not stop here. “We are not a group of chosen people”, they said in a recent public statement. “We only made the first step towards exploring, creating and contributing to a different Belgrade”. They are asking for more awareness to be directed towards culture, both from the state and from the community; and so far, their methods are proving to be tremendously effective. The country’s cultural institutions are supporting the action wholeheartedly, and are currently trying to make the cinema public property once again. The ending of this story remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: prospects for culture in Serbia are confidently improving.