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A century of film

August 15, 2009

Los Angeles may be the movie capital of the world today, but the very first cinema went into business far from the Hollywood hills in what is now Poland. The landmark theater turns 100 this year.

Kino Pionier
The cinema has seen dramatic developments in film over the past 100 yearsImage: Jerzy Miskiewicz

When the first moving picture was projected on the screen in the Kino Pionier cinema - then called Helios - tickets cost just two pennies and Germany was ruled by an emperor. What is now the Polish city of Szczecin on the Baltic coast was then the German city of Stettin, just an hour's drive northeast of Berlin.

While Hollywood may now be the film capital of the world, it was there in Szczecin that the very first movie was shown in 1909.

The owner Jerzy Miskiewicz said he didn't find out about his movie theater's significance until it closed for renovations.

Black and white picture of Kino Pionier from 1960
Kino Pionier, pictured here in 1960, still has the charm of an old cinemaImage: Jerzy Miskiewicz

"I went to the city archives and found well-preserved documents about the cinema," he said. "And I discovered that it's been running since 1909. There is no older cinema in the world."

Old is its attraction

For hard-core cineastes, the Szczecin movie theater has sentimental meaning.

"It was always a cozy little cinema," said Else Rezjenska, a retired teacher who said she has many old memories of the theater. "Nothing special, really, but we always liked going there - first with my children and now with my grandchildren."

When Miskiewicz acquired the cinema in 1999, in was a ramshackle building with just a dozen rickety wooden chairs and a stove heater. It took three years to transform the place into a comfortable, attractive place to meet friends.

"There aren't a lot of old things in Szczecin," said Miskiewicz. "It's great that there's something like this here. And it should get more attention."

He is particularly proud of the theater's second viewing room: The "Kinarnia" - a play on the Polish words for "cinema" (kino) and "café" (kawiarnia) - is dark, smoky and a bit cramped. It has a small bar, round tables and a projector set up in the middle. Next to the movie screen is an old piano that's used to accompany silent films.

The projector rattles loudly, just like in the old days, said cinema employee Tomas Wojczeszek. "Most people like that, since it creates the atmosphere of an old movie theater," he added.

Contemporary facade of Kino Pionier
Kino Pionier is one of few relics in Szczecin, said MiskiewiczImage: Jerzy Miskiewicz

'Helios' is already taken

It was Sept. 26, 1909, when Albert Pitzke, a member of the upper class in Stettin, opened the "cinematography theater" on what was then Falkenwalder Strasse. An ad in the evening paper promised a sensational program with the most outstanding contemporary films.

The cinema may still be running, but many of these original films have been lost forever. Miskiewicz has searched for them in archives across Poland, but to no avail.

Kinarnia room in Kino Pionier
The Kinarnia room offers a different kind of cinema experienceImage: Jerzy Miskiewicz

"The films weren't labeled, so we don't know who the director and producer were," he said. "We only have the title to go on."

A celebration is planned for the movie theater on its 100th birthday next month. But it won't be able to reclaim its original name, Helios, since a multiplex cinema around the corner uses it.

Miskiewicz, however, said he doesn't think the big modern theater will last very long.

Author: Christoph Richter (kjb)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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