Revamped Soprus to boost art house films

  • 2004-02-26
  • By Steve Roman
TALLINN - Estonia's independent film industry got a much-needed shot in the arm on Feb. 18 with the reopening of the historic Soprus as an art house cinema, which could have a positive influence that goes far beyond the cinema's own ticket booth.

Last December the state-financed Estonian Film Foundation and their subsidiary Tallinnfilm took over the 1950s-era cinema hall after BDG, the entertainment company and film distributor that had been managing it, decided it was no longer a viable business and closed it down.
The EFF, which operates under the Ministry of Culture to support film production, had already been looking for a venue for an art house cinema in Tallinn when the opportunity came along.
"When we heard the news about Soprus closing down, it was an obvious choice for us," said Martin Aadamsoo, the foundation's director.
Aadamsoo explained that their goal was to plug a large hole that developed in the city's film menu after the number of constantly working cinemas in the capital had dwindled to just two - the 11-screen Coca-Cola Plaza and the Kosmos. Both cinemas are operated by Estonia's largest film distributor, Motion Picture Distribution of Estonia, and lean heavily toward big-budget Hollywood productions.
"I think it was a huge gap on the landscape," said Aadamsoo. "It's a very peculiar situation when we are on the threshold of joining the European Union, in a capital of 400,000 people, and we basically have two cinemas - both of them running more or less Hollywood fare."
Not only will the cinema provide a regular forum for the kind of independent Estonian and European titles that have been off the menu of late, it also has the potential to jumpstart the distribution of independent films to the rest of the country.
The dilemma, said Aadamsoo, was that with only the two MPDE cinemas in Tallinn, distributors of European and art house films couldn't be guaranteed a place to show their films in the make-or-break market. MPDE's cinemas do occasionally show non-Hollywood titles, but without assurances that they would get the screening needed to recoup their investment through box office sales, distributors were reluctant to spend money on buying licenses, making print copies and adding subtitles.
Now that independent distributors know their films will have a place in Soprus, Aadamsoo believes they will be willing to make these investments. This, in turn, would mean the films could also be shown in cinemas outside Tallinn. In this way, Soprus could potentially be a catalyst for increasing the number of independent films in the Estonian market as a whole, he said.
But this project didn't come without a price tag. Aadamsoo estimated that it cost around 500,000 kroons (32,000 euros) to revamp the single-screen, 282-seat hall. Improvements include a new ticket booth and snack bar, and a video projector for showing Estonian documentaries and animated works that never end up on film. The giant hall itself was remodeled as well.
"What adds value is the interior design," said Katrin Rajasaare, the cinema's manager. The hall now looks a lot more modern, but retains a lot of its grand 1950's style, she said.
The EFF is planning to eventually recoup this initial investment with an annual subsidy of 15,000 euros from the European Cinemas network, a body that supports cinemas that show mostly European films, and with financial support from the city of Tallinn.
The cinema's operating costs are to be covered by ticket sales, which are so far going "better than expected," according to Rajasaare. But even if box-office revenue for the Soprus' four to five daily screenings isn't enough to keep the cinema profitable, said Aadamsoo, the EFF will keep it afloat.
"We expect it to break even roughly. Even if it goes into the red, that's an acceptable risk for us, it's a pain worth taking for us," he said.