The year is off to a worrisome start for culture in Reykjavík. At the end of January, it was announced that the only arthouse cinema in Reykjavík, Bió Paradís, would be closing in three months. The future remains uncertain for one of the city’s major cultural hubs, but film aficionados and Bió Paradís lovers are mobilizing to save the cinema.
It all started 10-years ago, the previous commercial cinema that operated in the building went down with the Icelandic economy in the 2008 financial crash. As the commercial, blockbuster-centric cinemas moved to suburban shopping malls, Bió Paradís was born in the heart of Reykjavík, pumping culture through the city’s veins.
New owners, new problems
In 2010, Bío Paradís’ proprietors were able to arrange a great price for the rent of the building. However, in 2015 the building was bought. The new owners planned on immediately doubling the rent, but they weren’t allowed. “Luckily, we had just renewed the old rent agreement with the previous owners,” discloses the managing director, Hrönn Sveinsdóttir. “I don’t know if this was something they realized before they bought it but the agreement is for five years, it’s quite clear”.
They are looking to negotiate with the city and the state, with whom they‘ve been partnered since the beginning, but who currently represent less than 20% of the cinema’s yearly financing, with the rest being raised by the organization. Hrönn believes there are several ways this partnership can be fruitful, but “the survival of Bió Paradís is a question of political will and courage.”
Besides the obvious problem with the dramatic increase in rent, Bió Paradís has been in need of maintenance since its opening in 2010. The list of problems is long, from the seats to the air conditioning to the lack of wheelchair accessibility. In the past three years, the cinema was finally making enough money to cover the debt they incurred purchasing equipment. Money was also finally coming in from all the services the theatre offers besides film screenings.
The Power Of Culture
The closure of this legendary cultural icon would mean a great loss, delivering a blow to the democratization of access to culture. For 10 years, Bió Paradís has been the foremost venue to welcome films from all genres from all over the world, and the only theatre in Iceland to import and sell the acclaimed films that are available on Video On Demand services and the National Television Network in Iceland.
In a show of support and shared grief, hundreds of people filled the foyer of Bió Paradís on February 4th for an event appropriately called, “Save Bió Paradís.” In an open-mic format, cultural icons and community members shared ideas, praise, and solutions. The management of Bió Paradís was impressed and pleased that such a movement was formed so quickly. “I think it’s important that it comes from the grassroots, not something that we are directly involved in,”Hrönn emphasizes.
As we learn in “Cinema Paradiso,” which fittingly shares a name with Reykjavík’s beloved cinema, life is much harder than the movies, but hopefully, the magic of film will prevail.
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