The 70mm Weekend in Varnsdorf saw a range of classics on screen once more. Johan C.M. Wolthuis, from International 70mm Publishers, and Jan-Hein Bal, from EYE Filmmuseum, reflect on the event.
Words: Johan CM Wolthuis & Jan-Hein Bal
In the Czech Republic on the border with Germany, lying under the Lussatian Mountains is the small city of Varnsdorf, where a classical cinema — the Centrum Panorama — features a curved screen of 18.4 x 7.9 metres. The depth of the curvature is 1.8m and the stadium-seated auditorium can accommodate 550. In the projection booth are all the necessary digital projectors (Christie) and sound processors required to run a major show, but the cinema also has all its traditional projection technology (16mm, 35mm and 70mm), all kept in excellent working condition.
The cinema is proud of its two Meopta UM 70/35mm projectors, built in its home country in the 1970s. They can screen classic 70mm films with six-channel magnetic sound and newer 70mm prints with Datasat timecodes. There is noise suppression for audio recordings without Dolby and Dolby A and Dolby SR and other audio systems for 70mm were installed, to support low bass frequencies in a particular track or to recreate stereo sound effects.
On the walls of the auditorium, there are a total of 28 different speakers, with five original speakers from 1971
behind the screen and eight new JBL speakers — these were used during the cinema’s “70mm Weekend” held in May this year. The set-up should give you an indication that this was an excellent place for the 70mm Weekend 2018 (the second time the festival has been held in the Czech Republic — previously at Krnov). From 17-20 May, a unique program of old and new films was screened in co-operation with the Prague Film Archive, DEFA-Stiftung and the Kino Museum Berlin, who provided most of the 70mm copies.
Once more in the Czech Republic
Reflecting growing interest in 70mm screenings, this was the fourth time the 70mm Weekend has been run — this year’s program started with “War and Peace, part I – Andrej Bolkonskij” and (a much better print of) “War and Peace, part II – Natasha Rostova” (1965), German-dubbed prints from the Kino Museum in Berlin, followed by “Gettysburg” (1993), a 70mm print from the Bradford Media Museum.
The second day saw the screening of an abridged English-dubbed film called “Old Shatterhand”, a German, French, Italian, Yugoslav co-production from 1964 originally filmed with German Super Panorama MCS 70 cameras. This was followed by the almost-obligatory (German dubbed) “2001: A Space Odyssey” from 1968, filmed in Super Panavison 70; a brand new 70mm print of “Murder on the Orient Express” and a German-dubbed blow-up from 1968: “Guns for San Sebastian (La Bataille de San Sebastian)”. Followed by a German dubbed blow-up from 1968: “The Shoes of the Fisherman” (the third movie with Anthony Quinn), a blow-up of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977); “Lawrence of Arabia”, David Lean’s famous movie from 1962 filmed in Super Panavision 70, Samuel Bronston’s “Circus World” (1964) in Super Technirama 70. The last movie was a blow-up from 1968 — “Finian’s Rainbow”. Though many of the prints were to a certain extent faded, “Lawrence of Arabia” was in excellent condition. Prints were English or dubbed in German and subtitled with a beamer in Czech.
The weekend saw cinephiles from around the world flock to Varnsdorf, including visitors, from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. “Murder on the Orient Express” in particular drew a good crowd. There also was an interesting short History of the Cinema in Varnsdorf.
A phoenix rising from the ashes…
Some history of this unique cinema: it opened in 1971 as a project to promote the city of Varnsdorf. At that time the
city had a population of around 35,000 and was known for its textile factories. From the outset, it was installed for 70mm projection with the Meopta UM 70/35mm projectors, however it closed in 1991 as a result of the closure of many factories. The number of inhabitants reduced by nearly 50 per cent. The cinema and the next door hotel fell into ruins.
Fortunately, in 2000, Pavel Nejtek, owner of a neon lighting factory in Prague, bought the complex. Being a cinema enthusiast, he started to rebuild and finally — after five years — in 2005 reopened. The exterior still needs much renovation, but the interior is beautifully restored. In the same building, he opened two restaurants and in the lobby is an exhibition of equipment including a Czech Meopta UM 70/35, Dutch Philips DP75, Russian KH17/ 35mm.
During the weekend, many movies were introduced by Mr Nejtek himself in Czech and in English by Jean-Pierre Gutzeit from the Berlin Kino Museum and Martin Šinkmajer, project manager. Tom Ackerman from Austria provided German commentary. The Russian movie “War and Peace” was introduced by Jan-Hein Bal from the Amsterdam EYE Filmmuseum. The staff did a fantastic job projecting everything reel by reel, without non-rewind equipment. They had to overcome a number of technical difficulties, including a print of “Gettysburg” which was often out of focus because of vinegar problems (decay of film material). Before and after projection this print was stored in refrigerator boxes!
Part of a wider cinematic celebration
The majority of the festival was financed by the Ústí nad Labem region, the city of Varnsdorf itself and finally by the Neisse Film Festival — the 70mm weekend took place in the context of the 15th Neisse Film Festival, organised in 10 locations on the German-Polish-Czech border triangle from 15-20 May. Jean-Pierre Gutzeit should be complemented on bringing in eight 70mm movies, most in fair condition. The philosophy of the organisation is to show movies that are rarely presented. During the festival the cinema’s restaurants were often crowded with local visitors.
The quiet city of Varnsdorf is awaiting a repaired railway connection and sadly has a number of closed — but beautiful — churches and factories, though it does feature a number of lovely restored buildings that give a hint at the city’s future. It lies near the city of Dresden — itself well worth a visit, with beautiful churches and other historic buildings rebuilt after the bombardment it experienced in February 1945. And last but not least, the beautiful Rundkino, built in 1972, with 898 seats, is one of the largest 70mm cinemas in the former German Democratic Republic — it still functions today in Dresden as a large digital cinema.