In an ocean of conformity, Lichtblick is a unicorn… and that’s why I cherish it.“I almost only show films I like!” Rosi concludes. She must have good taste – in 2017, for the fifth year in a row, Lichtblick won the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg’s “best programme award”. One other Berlin woman was among the happy winners: Moviemento’s Iris Praefke. For someone whose only teenage experience of cinema consisted of renting 1990s rom-coms, Rosi has helped build an invaluable arthouse hub. “In an ocean of conformity, Lichtblick is a unicorn,” she says, “and that’s why I cherish it.”
From projectionist to chief programmer, Elisa Rosi has helped turn a pocket-sized punk Kino into an indie powerhouse. With films ranging from international classics to local mumblecore, an event-packed weekly programme including an ever-popular midnight screening of Casablanca, and record-cheap tickets at only €6.50 (€5.50 students), Prenzlauer Berg’s 32-seat Lichtblick Kino has imposed itself as one of Berlin’s most revered arthouse cinemas. And its chief programmer and comanager Rosi has played no small part in that. She still remembers her first encounter with the movie theatre housed in Kastanienallee’s former squat K77. For the young Perugia-born literature student, it was love at first sight. “It was March 2004. I’d come to watch Orson Welles’ The Trial. It was a dubbed 35mm version, and I thought that by then my German would be good enough. Well… it wasn’t! But there I was in that amazing cinema and I immediately fell in love with it,” says Rosi. Now 36, she still keeps the movie programme from that night in her drawer and fondly remembers the Kastanienallee heyday. In 2007, having settled in Berlin for good, Rosi “naturally” applied for an internship at Neue Visionen Filmverleih, the distribution company run by Lichtblick co-founder Torsten Frehse and conveniently housed in the same building as the theatre. And when she left the internship, it was only “natural” to start working at the Kino. Under Frehse’s mentorship, she learnt it all: how to be a technician, a projectionist, a light operator, a ticket vendor. Soon enough, she also began contributing her own ideas to the programme. By September 2012, she was curating her first retrospective, a tribute to French director Leo Carax on the occasion of the German release of Holy Motors. The old Kino was earning a new edge: No more dubbed versions of Orson Welles (“I’m an OV Nazi!”) and an emphasis on Q&As with directors and actors (or even Marxist pundits, in the case of The Young Karl Marx) and post-film discussions over wine and snacks in the small but cosy foyer, still adorned with butcher’s hooks from its pre-squat days as a Metzgerei. “Times are more challenging, so I try to make cinema a full experience; to offer something you wouldn’t get at home, even if you have a great projector and a big bare white wall in your flat.” She defines her programme as “relevant in terms of artistic value or social/political message”. There’s plenty of homegrown fare – the work of Axel Ranisch are a Lichtblick staple; anti-gentrification statements such as Gertrud Schulte Westenberg and Matthias Coers’ Mietrebellen always strike a chord with Prenzlauer Berg’s dwindling anarcho-leftist fringe; the nostalgic Mitte documentary Berlinized just hit its 50th screening and “still sells out every time,” Rosi says proudly. Other choices come from further afield, like popular political blockbusters Detroit and In the Fade, which she programmed side by side. “One of the regulars called it my ‘anti-racism series’!” Aware of her increasingly international audience, she regularly screens German films with English subtitles – like Andres Veiel’s Beuys, with the Berlin-based filmmaker in attendance once a month for the film’s entire six-month run. Rosi adds that she feels indebted to directors like Veiel and Ranisch, who “don’t forget the cinemas that always appreciated and supported their work, and keep coming back even when they’re famous.” There’s also Exblicks, the monthly series set up in 2011 with Exberliner’s Nadja Vancauwenberghe and independent curator Natalie Gravenor. Over six years they’ve screened over 90 Berlin-related films, each with English subtitles and a director Q&A, alongside special events like an auspicious “Ladies behind the Camera” retrospective in December 2016 and two exclusive screenings of Syrian director Ossama Mohammed’s Cannes revelation Silvered Water. “The films never found a distributor in Germany, so it was a bit of a coup for us,” says Rosi, who often has to fight hard to negotiate affordable prices for a cinema the size of Lichtblick.