In Paracin for the weekend among in-laws and ancient ancestors, at one point we were at a loss for something to do that did not involve mounds of food, liters of rakija, and hours of nostalgia. Always the resourceful sort, I come up with a perfect plan for a Sunday night.
Let's go see a movie, I said.
And then came the surprise. There is no cinema in Paracin. Nor in Nis. Nor in Ruma, Subotica or Vranje. I discovered that, apart from the Serbian capital, there are almost NO CINEMAS in the whole country. Of course I could hardly believe this, having been brought up with movies and going to the movies as part of my earliest childhood. I immediately spring into action - I googled it.
Cinemas all over the country, I found out, were closed a few years ago due to lack of funds to keep them open, renovate them, bring them up to spec, or draw in new movie-goers. When a large number of movies houses in Belgrade closed (at about the same time), I remember the lamentation - but even so there are still a good number of working cinemas in Belgrade. I did not realize at the time what a big deal this actually was...
I grew up in a small town of about 7,000ish people. But in Waverly, Iowa, there was a cinema, complete with bright lights, glamorous posters, and Saturday afternoon matinees. Movie stars, blockbusters, and bucolic drive-ins were as much a part of my youth as baseball and summer vacations.
If you happen to live outside the White City, the best you can do is watch TV or wait for a local cultural festival in order to see moving pictures. The shifting sands of the Serbian economy have buried this essential art form (the "Seventh Art" - after architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, music, and poetry) in the desert of How Things Used to Be.
I suppose I should not be surprised. But I really expected that, even if it were a run-down, poorly maintained, and infrequently frequented place, at least ONE cinema would be sporadically open in Paracin. But sadly no.
Maybe that is why there are 873 Pink movie channels.
What surprises me further is that no one has seized on this cinematographic vacuum to open a few private movie houses in this or that town. Film is, if we believe the press releases, highly cherished and revered in Serbia. There are still national, regional, and international film festivals in Belgrade. Hollywood has turned more and more often to Serbia as a shooting location. And everyone can name the most popular stars of the silver screen.
Given this, it does not follow that there is any lack of interest in the cinema. And even if we can watch movies on the small screen or download them clandestinely for monitor viewing, the allure of the Big Screen is still powerful.
The argument that people do not have money to invest in the cinema is spurious in my view. After all, movies are Big Business all over the world. Cinemas may not all make tons of money, but if you build one, people will go.
In the meantime, still in Paracin, I guess I will have to go back to the in-laws for some entertainment. When the sun goes down we can flip through the wedding photos and see if it makes a movie.