For several years now, an unassuming building on Weserstraße in Neukölln has been undergoing an incredible transformation. In previous lives it was a bakery, tobacconists, and brothel; and at the start of this month it officially began its new life as Berlin’s newest independent cinema — Wolf Kino.
I consider myself to be quite observational when I’m walking around Berlin, but I must have developed a bit of a blind spot in my own neighbourhood because I never even knew it existed until recently. As it happens, Wolf Kino has been operating in a kind of incognito mode for the last couple of years, with screenings and events taking place throughout the long and arduous renovations.
The number of independent cinemas in Berlin is impressive by the standards. Wolf Kino employee Kris Woods, who previously worked in film labs in England until moving here four years ago, could only remember three or four such cinemas in London when I asked how it compared to Berlin. Here, we are blessed with a range of independent cinemas, from Kino Intimes, hidden behind what must be the most densely graffitied wall in the city, to Kino Tilsiter Lichtspiele, which has been screening films since 1908.
Wolf Kino takes the concept of cinema as a communal experience and pushes it further. In fact, if it wasn’t for both the Berlin community and the international film community it might never have happened. In early 2015 a successful crowdfunding campaign managed to raise €56,000 in just two months, and the plush red seats that adorn the two intimate screening rooms were generously donated from Adria Filmtheater in the south of Berlin.
What would normally be a typical lobby area is also a café and bar, creating a new space for grabbing a coffee with a friend or, as Kris explained to me he’d been seeing, a place for filmmakers and creatives to meet and exchange ideas.
This is impressive in itself, but Wolf Kino has even more up its sleeve. Just next door is Studio 6, which is available for events, screenings, exhibitions and more. It’s a versatile social space that will allow artists and filmmakers to explore all aspects of the moving image. An upcoming exhibition by Josephine Decker, for example, will look to explore immersive theatre through virtual reality.
“I feel that in a couple of years, virtual reality will be an exciting, unique medium that will stand alongside 2D cinema projection”
It’s a technology that one might expect an independent cinema to be reluctant to embrace, yet Wolf Kino is open-minded to exploring new mediums. As Kris explained to me, “virtual reality is still finding its specificity in a way that cinema was in the late 1900s, early 20th-century. I feel that in a couple of years it will be an exciting, unique medium that will stand alongside 2D cinema projection”.
Also in Studio 6 is a post-production suite that will be open later in the year. Not only will this give filmmakers a fully-equipped workspace in the heart of Neukölln, but they can then take their work over to the cinema to carry out test screenings.
To me, this is what makes Wolf Kino stand out from the crowd. They’re not just creating a fantastic place to watch films, but have created a unique space in which they are a part of the filmmaking process from start to finish. You can easily imagine a film coming to fruition here; from the initial idea forming over coffee in the café, developing through Studio 6, and then finally being screened in the cinema itself.
They aim to keep their programme broad and varied, including a lot of classic films and unreleased films from the festival circuit; an exciting prospect for an average person like myself who never gets to experience them. Although, as Kris explained to me, the staff here wouldn’t shy away from playing a blockbuster film if it was something that really excited them.
At the end of the day, though, Wolf Kino is about giving people great cinematic experiences, regardless of how it’s produced. It is, as Kris says, “about raising the possibility of these really unexpected moments of finding something new and beautiful.”
Companies may be vying to replace the cinema theatre with replications in VR (such as this garish example), but thankfully, we’re nowhere near that point yet. For now, cinema is still a magical social experience that cannot be replicated; and having another place to enjoy that can never be a bad thing.
Words and photos by James Fancourt.