„Balkan“ cinema — Keeper of the old and bastion of the new cultural Belgrade

Photo: Belgrade City Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments

One of the cultural, historical and architectural institutions and landmarks of Belgrade, the “Balkan” cinema, which has been in a state of collapse for a long time, a few years ago entered the process of revitalization and revival in the essential sense — it opened its doors to visitors. On the other hand, the revival was also material: reconstruction has been partaken in accordance with the guidelines of Belgrade City Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, which is one of the few of its kind in our capital, and which aims to preserve the original appearance of the building.
But before the story about the restoration, let’s remind ourselves of the importance of the “Balkan” cinema and what it has represented through the decades, but also what it represents today. At the address Braće Jugovića 16, the building was built on the foundations of a Turkish han in the second half of the 19th century, more precisely, from 1867 to 1870. From the original investor and owner, Đorđe Pašon, Aromanian renoved manufacturer of alcoholic beverages, the ownership was taken over by Vanđela Toma in 1900, a well-known tobacconist.. The reason for all this is that Pašona had previously taken a loan from Toma, which he failed to repay. The inn, hotel, theater, opera, cinema — its various purposes attracted intellectuals and celebrities of the 20th century, from Antun Gustav Matoš, through Žanka Stokić, Žarko Savić and others.

According to many, the “Balkan” cinema was, and still is, one of the most beautiful cinemas in Belgrade. The interior is reminiscent of the famous London “Electric Cinema” on Notting Hill. An interesting fact about the screening of Miloš Forman’s film Amadeus, 1984, speaks of its popularity among the inhabitants of Belgrade during the SFRY. According to film critic Miloš Bilbija, the frenzy was so great that hundreds of people stood and waited to buy tickets for the film, and the line stretched from the box office to Republic Square.

Photo: Saša Marčeta Foundation

However, due to neglect and negligence, the dynamic history of this building was not constantly so glamorous. “Balkan” has been waiting restoration and events that will breathe in the old spirit for a long time. We are witnesses that buildings of great artistic and architectural value are being destroyed, or changed for the construction of residential buildings. Multi-storey buildings are springing up and being built in a suspiciously short period of time, greatly disturbing the lives of the inhabitants, obscuring the beautiful landscapes, not allowing the sun to reach the streets …

The “Balkan” cinema is an exception in this wide spread phenomena. The spirit of the past has been preserved, while modern elements are harmoniously integrated — Balkan cinema once again became the meeting point of both young and established artists and creators, people who contribute to the advancement of the community. “Balkan” is again, thanks to the activities of the Saša Marčeta Foundation, after a long time, a place of meeting and birth of new values, and one of the generators of the creative scene of Belgrade.

The process of physical reconstruction is certainly complex, long-lasting and financially demanding, because it is a building that represents a cultural monument. However, that process is underway and under the leadership of the expert team of the Saša Marčeta Foundation, among which is the architect Vladimir Anđelković. As he points out, in terms of construction, works on the restoration and reconstruction of interior elements are always very complex. They require a set of skills and knowledge that the contractor must possess to interpret the submitted instructions, as well as to find ways to adapt modern materials and construction techniques to techniques used 100 or more years ago, all in order to preserve the architectural heritage and its adequate presentation to modern and future users of the space.

Photo: Saša Marčeta Foundation

“In terms of design, the reconstruction of such a facility is a special challenge, given that the facility is designed as a multi-purpose and multidisciplinary space for cultural events while maintaining its primary purpose — holding screenings with all appropriate accompanying facilities. The modern function of the multipurpose hall requires high technical and technological equipment of the space, with the priority that this aspect of the equipment of the space fits into the existing architectural building; not to disturb the decorative plasticity of the walls and not as an element of space to influence a radical change in the ambience of the interior of the ‘Balkan’ “, says Vladimir.

He further points out that “during the reconstruction of the Balkan cinema, the new concept pays special attention to modernizing the functions of the facility by adapting it to modern requirements and tendencies in design.” Having in mind the spatial-functional characteristics, it is necessary to provide the possibility of simple changes of functions. The focus being the preservation of the basic purpose of the cinema and permanent preservation of the building as a cultural asset. Reconstruction of a building with such a complex functional scheme requires the creation of an unobtrusive architecture of the interior space, with a caring attitude towards the elements of architectural and craft heritage. The project envisages complete retention of the internal reconstructed membrane of the cinema hall (plastic on the perimeter walls, position of all internal elements of the space: gallery, windows and other openings), all according to protection measures issued by the Belgrade City Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments.

Finally, this whole text is not a lament over the elitism of “krug dvojke”, nor a rebellion against change and construction, but an appeal for greater awareness, not only of institutions but also of citizens, about the wealth we have, from which we often look away.

Text: Vanja Ratković

Saša Marčeta Foundation 

Bulevar Maršala Tolbuhina 38 Beograd

Artists, partners: contact@fondacijasasamarceta.org

Press: press@fondacijasasamarceta.org

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