Moviemento has been at the forefront of Berlin cinema for over 100 years, but now the Kreuzberg kino, synonymous with the city’s independent cultural scene and host to a stream of major festivals including the popular PornFilmFestival, faces closure after the owners of its building decided to sell the space for €2M. The duo behind Moviemento since 2007, Iris Praefke and Wulf Sörgel, launched a crowdfunding campaign this month in a bid to buy the space themselves and save the cinema. Immediately backed by some of the German film world’s most famous names the likes of Tom Tykwer, director Dietrich Brüggemann and Berlinale’s Wieland Speck, as well as local politicians, the campaign has already raised more than €40,000. For Praefke it’s confirmation that Moviemento is more than just a cinema to Berliners, but a place to discuss, to meet filmmakers, a place of discovery, of love stories. We caught up with her to find out what the current situation is and why it’s important Moviemento lives on.
Your fundraising campaign launched last week, it really seems like a bid for Moviemento’s long-term survival. How is the cinema under threat?
At the beginning of last year Delta Vivum, a daughter company of Deutsche Wohnen [one of the biggest real estate companies in Germany], bought the building. It was already partially privatised by the previous owner who split up some of the spaces to sell as apartments. The new owner is continuing to do that but they‘re also selling the business spaces – which includes the cinema rooms. It’s around 600sqm and the price they ask at the moment is about €2M. They just came by and told us in person in the middle of October.
That must have been a shock?
Of course! The problem is the price is so high! You can’t really run a cinema on a rent that’s based on it.
Is that why you decided to try and raise the money to buy the space yourself?
That’s basically the only solution. If someone were to buy it for €2M they would have to raise the rent four or five times above what it is now just to finance the price back. So we decided to try to buy it ourselves and to raise money through crowdfunding which would mean the actual price we have to pay for the rooms would be cheaper. But we‘re also fighting on all sides and trying to seduce the owner into reducing the price. We didn’t really have a great contact with them before, but now we have a date with them next week to discuss buying the space.
You’ve already raised more than €40,000 through crowdfunding, is that enough to ensure Moviemento pulls through this period of uncertainty?
We launched the campaign on November 5 and so far it’s going pretty well – we’re halfway to our first fundraising goal already. When we started it wasn’t clear what would happen so we said we need to have at least €100,000 to go on. Aside from the fundraising campaign we have €400,000 – €200,000 from ourselves and then a friend of ours gave us another €200,000 as a loan. That’s why we set as a second goal €1.6M because that would bring us to the amount which, as things stand at that moment, we could buy the space.
You’ve been really overwhelmed with support, especially from some notable names in the film world. It seems Moviemento means a lot not only to Berliners, but the industry.
Yes, it’s really great! We have some quite famous people supporting us: Katharina Wackernagel, she also appears in the crowdfunding video, director Jonas Grosch and Wieland Speck from the Berlinale – he was even working in the cinema in the 1970s – to name a few! Then, on Facebook, Godehard Giese has posted about us, even Dietrich Brüggemann! We also met Kreuzberg Baustadtrat Florian Schmidt. He immediately said he would support us and help us wherever he can. A lot of other politicians are behind us too.
Clearly for many it’s important Moviemento lives on, why do you think that is?
I think Moviemento is a very special cinema. We have a lot of festivals, 15 last year. We just finished the Philippine festival, we have the Bulgarian documentary festival, Basque film festival, Christmas festival and we have a lot of kids and schools screenings. There’s so much going on with the space and it would be super sad to lose that opportunity to show Berlin all these different kinds of movies.
This is the specific reason. The more general reason is that it’s not only Moviemento but all cultural spaces in Berlin that are endangered by the real estate situation. It’s important to show that we can stay. This might happen to other spaces and the whole independent culture that is so much part of Berlin, its atmosphere, if this goes away and you have only McDonald’s and Apple Stores everywhere it would be super sad. We need this kind of independent, underground culture in Berlin. This is what our city stands for.
Do you think your situation is a sign of the times?
It’s the biggest challenge cultural spaces are facing at the moment. And it’s important big companies, like the real estate companies, show their responsibility for the people and what they’re offering them. They have a responsibility with what they have as well.
You host some of the biggest events on the Berlin film calendar, what are your favourites?
The PornFilmFestival is of course a big highlight. It’s the biggest festival we have, it’s six days, all screens, it’s from morning to night and it is about 8000-9000 visitors each year so it’s basically sold out the whole time. But I also like the smaller festivals. For example, I really like DownUnder the Australian and New Zealand film festival, that was actually founded by a former employee. I think it’s great if you have somebody working in your cinema and then founding a festival that’s successful. There are so many highlights, so many screenings with directors and filmmakers it’s hard to pick one or two. I think I just enjoy the mix of it all.
Moviemento was founded in 1907, it’s one of the oldest cinemas in Germany. Can you tell me a bit of its history? Has it influenced how you run the cinema today?
It’s the oldest cinema still existing. It began as a room in a restaurant showing short films, later becoming a neighbourhood cinema. It survived two wars and in the 1970s while Manfred Salzgeber was running it (he went on to found the Panorama section of Berlinale) it was changed into an independent so-called Programme Kino showing a monthly series of specially curated films, shifting to a more cultural and educational approach. It was then run by a collective who brought the Rocky Horror Picture show to the cinema. At that time there were only two copies of the movie in Germany – it was the greatest success the cinema had. It was sold out every night for two years I think, people were partying, throwing rice, toilet paper, spraying water. After that it was taken over by Ingrid Schwibbe who hired Tom Tykwer. He was chief of programming, working there for 15 years while the cinema had huge successes with all-night Star Wars screenings. She handed the cinema to us in 2007 and we have tried to keep up the same spirit – doing crazy or unusual stuff, experiments and also always trying to find new things.
What is Moviemento to you and what do you hope those who come to Moviemento experience? Besides a movie!
I hope they see that Moviemento is a very important space for Berlin, a place to discover things they didn’t know existed, a space for discussing, a space for meeting people. Cinema nowadays is not only showing movies but it’s also meeting filmmakers, actors, directors, and discussing their films with them. And I hope people also think of Moviemento as a space to meet and to talk with each other and maybe also fall in love… Actually a year ago I met a couple who met at Moviemento, now they’re married and have kids (laughs).
Donate to Moviemento’s crowdfunding campaign here.