Prague indie venues facing threat of extinction as Covid effects linger

Independent arthouse cinemas, such as Screenshot in the Petrská quarter, continue to suffer from closures and insufficient government support.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass
Published on 26.08.2021 18:00 (updated on 26.08.2021)

Covid has had a devastating impact on Prague’s entertainment industry. The enforced closure of all non-essential businesses at the height of the pandemic followed by subsequent restrictions and the trend toward at-home leisure activities has delivered a major blow to cinemas in particular. Many face dire financial circumstances that could threaten their survival.

Screenshot, a small arthouse screening room in Prague’s Petrská quarter, opened only months before the pandemic struck in March 2020. We spoke to Payam Razi, the Founder of Screenshot, about the impact of Covid on his business.

“Screenshot was a very young establishment when the pandemic struck,” Razi said. “In our first six months of activity prior to the lockdown, Screenshot participated in film festivals, and through special screenings and curated programs, we managed to grow our audience.”

Photo courtesy of Anna Šolcová, annasolcova.cz
Photo courtesy of Anna Šolcová, annasolcova.cz

“We had just started to regularly sell out screenings when the pandemic arrived,” he added.

While putting a stop to screenings, the pandemic also prevented the operation of other elements critical to the viability of small independent cinemas. With income from bars and other events drying up, cinemas like Screenshot were left without any income for nearly a year. This led to a dependence on government support, which in many cases, and especially for young businesses, was not sufficient to make up for lost earnings.

“In our case, support from the government was fairly limited. Due to the short financial history of Screenshot, we were not eligible to receive many of the offered grants. Our application for a cultural grant was rejected, for unknown reasons. All we received from the government was an after-tax 50 percent commercial space rent support, for only six months of the pandemic.”

According to Razi, many other small entertainment and culture businesses have been severely damaged by the pandemic, and some have vanished completely. With government support failing to alleviate Screenshot’s financial woes, the cinema is now inviting the public to donate funds to keep the business alive.

“The goal of our fundraising campaign is to gather donations from our kind and supportive friends and family in the Czech Republic, and from all who love and appreciate arthouse films and small independent cinemas. This is the last avenue open to us to save Screenshot. If we reach our target, we will use the money to bring back the team, restart film screenings and music events, and get back on our feet. If we don’t reach this goal, we might be forced to close permanently.”

Small cinemas were able to open earlier than large multiplexes as pandemic restrictions eased earlier this summer. Although many Czech cinemas were helped by their legal status as non-profit organizations, independent businesses, including large multiplexes and indie cinemas, have in many cases fallen through the cracks of government support.

Razi notes that if the fundraising campaign is successful, Screenshot will not change its business model as a result of the pandemic. Indeed, the company is planning a new series of month-long programs, each dedicated to a single indie filmmaker, when it becomes possible to resume operations.

Larger cinemas can depend on an eventual full return of customers to regain financial stability, but for those like Screenshot, public generosity is now needed as the effects of Covid linger. Without this generosity, they may not survive.

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