In operation since 1907, the Kino Pionier 1907 in Szczecin, Poland has been through wars, regime changes, the 1918 Spanish flu… and now, Covid-19. It has, to put it lightly, been a year of struggle for the theater. The initial closure of Poland’s cinemas was announced on March 12; cinemas were allowed to re-open on June 6 under capacity restrictions. The Kino Pioner, faced with dwindling attendance and a shortage of films to program, found itself in a dire financial situation. That’s when their local community stepped up with a crowdfunding campaign meant to save a theater that, at one point, was certified by the Guinness Book of World Record as the world’s oldest still in operation.
The Kino Pionier 1907, says co-owner Jerzy Miśkiewicz, is the only independent cinema in Szczecin, a port city located near the border of Poland and Germany. In terms of programming, the two-screen cinema prizes European productions over Hollywood fare, attracting an audience of “around 50,000 viewers” a year—“mostly middle-aged people and university students.”
That statistic, of course, predates the Covid-19 pandemic. After reopening in the summer, the Kino Pionier 1907 reduced the number of screenings and limited their daily hours of operation.. Attendance was capped at 25 percent. Programming films became “much harder… because distributors are withdrawing their films,” Miśkiewicz notes, preferring to release them in 2021 once the pandemic subsides.
Facing a sharp decline in ticket sales and a lack of money from the government—“To be honest,” says Miśkiewicz of government assistance to the cinema sector, “they promised, but so far nothing… has happened.”—on September 28 the cinema announced a five-day closure. But even before that, on September 22, Szczecin locals had set up a crowdfunding campaign for their beloved cinema. The initial goal—earning enough money to cover the Kino Pionier’s costs for one month—was reached in two days. And so, the campaign continued; to this point, 1,174 people have donated 57,400 zł, roughly equivalent to $15,000 U.S. dollars—enough, says Miśkiewicz, “to keep us going till the end of the year, for [which] we are very grateful.”
Through the #wspieramykinapolskie campaign (“#wesupportpolishcinema”), fans also bought over 800 tickets for future shows at the Kino Pionier 1907 over the period of a single week. So far, that campaign has raised 161,137 zł (approximately $42,649) for cinemas across Poland.
Yet the Kino Pionier 1907—like so many other cinemas around the world—continues to feel the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is spiking in areas throughout Europe and necessitating a second phase of cinema shutdowns. In Poland, that second phase started on November 7 and will run at least through November 29; Kino Pionier, on its Facebook page, said it would be closed until December 27. But Miśkiewicz is optimistic that this grand old theater, supported by its fans, will make it through these unprecedented times. “It seems indestructible,” he says. “After the pandemic, we will keep on working, hopefully better than ever.”