Do you remember the video from Take me to church? Of course you do. And probably you’re not thinking about the original short promoting Hozier’s song from 2015, but the other one, made by David LaChapelle and graced by the presence of dancer Sergei Polunin.
Now the Russian dancer, model and actor features in his own biopic Dancer, that only a few cinemas are screening. And in Bologna, funnily enough considering how famous he became by dancing semi-naked inside a former church, it happens to be “church cinema” Bellinzona.
As a matter of fact, several former “parish cinemas” of Bologna are living an exciting moment and showing the least mainstream, most interesting stuff around. Cool ah? You would’t expect that. But first, a little bit of history on what is a “Cinema parrocchiale” .
Once upon a time, let’s say at least until some fifteen years ago, Italian cinema theaters had a special system of classification: “Prima visione”, “Seconda visione” and “Parrocchiali”. “Prima visione” (let’s roughly translate it with “early watch”) hosted for a shorter period the latest releases and were the most expensive, “Seconda visione” screened movies that had been already around for a while and costed a little less, and finally you had the super cheap and a bit depressing “parrocchiali”, literally “parish cinemas”.
Uncomfortable seats, little or no choice of snacks and a slightly sad atmosphere: you get the idea. Let’s say they were the last resource if you were really on a budget or there was that particular movie you had missed.
With the advent of endless alternative ways to watch movies from home, most cinema theaters experienced a severe crises and many were shut down, but somehow parish cinemas managed to survive, and lately some of theme literally reinvented themselves, at least in Bologna.
I’m referring to three of them in particular, Bellinzona, Orione and Galliera: three gems whose programs I strongly advise you to check: they are original, diverse, high quality and many times – which is so rare here – not dubbed.
So let’s start with Bellinzona, whose sophisticated repertory program included, only in the latest months, classic screwball comedy The Philadelphia Story, the movie-event Canaletto, ballet documentary The Paris Opera, plus a whole cycle dedicated to French cult director Jacques Demy, with Lola, Les demoiselles de Rochefort and Peau d’ane.
With a particular love for restored classics and sophisticated comedies, this small cinema a few hundred meters from Porta Saragozza and already immersed in the fresher air of the “colli” is a little pleasant surprise for any authentic cinema lover.
Then we have Galliera, I’d say “the coolest of them all” both for its location in the heart of cool and still little known Bolognina area, and for creating little smart events, sometimes even managing to be sold out, which is quite an achievement both for a parish cinema and for a place that isn’t super central.
They like documentaries those Galliera folks: it is thanks to them (and to the interesting platform Movie Day where little-distributed movies find their way to be shown around Italy) that I watched Food Coop about the cooperative supermarket in Park Slope, while all of their screening of Italian movie about The harvest regularly go sold out.
Also, the young guys running Galliera act like they’re in a real good old times’ cineclub, where a lady briefly introduces the movie: no wait, don’t run away. She’s genuinely fun and delivers little sketches of amateur stand up comedy, not pompous, serious intros.
Finally there’s Orione, not afraid of screening movies in their original Hindi (Padmavat, that I sadly missed) or Russian (Andrei Konchalovsky’s Paradise), while they recently dedicated some mini retrospective to Japanese Studio Ghibli’s anime movies. It’s slightly less active in the Facebook promotions whereas the other two are quite smart in creating regular updates and events, but when it posts about a single movie it’s generous with details, info, history of the movie and reviews.
Basically, what parish cinemas (Galliera prefers to be called a “community cinema”) did is rebranding and reinventing themselves in a smart way, clearly involving passionate and often young cinephiles, and the results speak for themselves: more and more Bolognese chose them, often but not exclusively the same people that go to cinematheque Cineteca di Bologna. So yes, parish and community, but with a connaisseur twist. And oh, did I mention that most screenings are cheaper than regular cinemas? Well, now you know.