Zebra Kino - Constance
I shall say right from the start that this is a story with a happy ending: until a few days ago, the Zebra was not digitalized and now it is. Its "pathway to digital" is rather unusual and this is exactly why it is worth describing, partly because it may serve as an example for other theatres that fear they will not be able to jump the gap to the new technologies.
But let's begin at the beginning. In the '80s a group of students from Constance University started to screen films in an apartment. The initiative took root to the extent that its promoters decided to look for somewhere to open a proper cinema.
They found the place in a quite unusual building: a former army barracks for the French, where they had stayed quartered in Constance well after the end of the Second World War.
5 May 1984 is thus the date of birth of the Zebra, a single-screen cinema seating approximately ninety people, which, with the support of the Municipality of Constance, offers two screenings a day, with a children's show on Sundays.
Its programming, decided on a monthly basis by a group of cinema lovers consisting mainly of volunteers, makes room for young directors and experimental cinema. This is how the Zebra complements the offer of cinema in Constance, with its large cinema-going population, where a multiplex screens mainstream films and a central, three-screen cinema offers arthouse movies.
Together with this "courageous" programming, particularly appreciated by university students and the inhabitants of the neighbourhood where the cinema is situated - an "alternative" area, where people prefer using bicycles to cars and tend towards a "niche" rather than a mass consumer style, the Zebra offers special events, such as the screening of concerts, either recorded or transformed into films, and a flourishing series of festivals and film weeks.
On 17 April, at the end of a festival, the Zebra closed its doors to begin the work necessary for ferrying the projection room into the digital age, starting by putting down adhesive tape to mark the exact spot on the floor where a brand new Sony 4K projector is to be installed. The choice was dictated by the need to provide quality screening even in the first few rows close to the screen.
The investment - a big one for a cinema like the Zebra that is anything but commercial and depends on a combination of salaried and volunteer work - was made possible by public financing (16,550 euros from the Constance Municipality and 8,250 euros from MFG, the cinema fund of Baden Württemberg), to which the Zebra managed to add a healthy 20,000 euros (i.e. almost 45% of the total) collected through crowdfunding. Whilst "crowdfunding" is just another word for many people, for the Zebra it has become a resounding reality. If so many private citizens and a good number of business companies have decided to support the campaign launched by the Zebra - perhaps just in exchange for having their name on the thank-you list - there is a good reason: in the thirty years it has been operating, this cinema has managed to create a community of spectators/supporters who think that at least a little bit of the cinema belongs to them, too. To find out how the Zebra managed to carry off this feat, the DigiTraining 2014 course provides a good opportunity: a session will be devoted to the case of this precise theatre which, on 5 May, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary by entering the digital age. Thanks also to the involvement of its audiences!
Yes, indeed, the cinema is right there, as indicated by the arrow: on the top floor of the Greth, a corn warehouse dating back to the XIV century and refurbished during the XVIII, located in Ueberlingen, on the north bank of Lake Constance, overlooking the landing stage, yesterday as today.
Opening a second cinema in a village with only 21,000 inhabitants is part of an ambitious initiative launched in 1998 and aiming to restore the Greth's central role in the life of this historical little lake town, which today is a popular venue for tourists, especially in the summer.
And the initiative has been fully successful: no-one arriving in this ancient village would ever imagine that up until a few years previously the Greth had been virtually in ruins, barely adequate for housing the ticket office serving the ferries that sail the lake.
One more floor and you come to the cinema.
In the large foyer, the ancient wooden pillars and overhead beams create an unusual atmosphere, so that even though the services on offer, such as the live screening of sport on the bar TV, are fully contemporary, the visitor has the impression of having travelled backwards in time.
Past and present return in the three theatres: digital technology and, once again, ancient wooden beams.
Nicole Lailach who manages the Greth with her husband (born into the profession, seeing that his parents are the managers of the Kammer/Tivoli cinema), is enthusiastic about digital: "Programming has become extremely simple from a technical point of view and, in addition, we can screen many more titles at the same time as towns far bigger than Ueberlingen." Whether because of the variety of its programming or because of its truly unique architecture, the Cine Greth has become a landmark both for the local community ("I know all my customers from Ueberlingen personally," continues Nicole Lailach) and for the holidaymakers who flock the medieval township in summer.