Inside Rio’s Indie Movie Theatres

By Kristen Nozell, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Cinema is firmly in the spotlight in the Cidade Marvavilhosa this week with the annual Festival do Rio in full swing. The biggest film event on the continent brings together films from around the world to twenty different cinemas in Rio, providing a perfect opportunity to watch and support some independently produced films in suitably indie spaces.

Estação Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

Estação Botafogo was the first location of the popular independent cinema group, photo by Grupo Estação.

Rio has become inundated with mainstream multiplexes in recent years, invariably to be found within the city’s shopping malls where the large Cinemark and Kinoplex franchises dominate. Less commercial theaters, however, have also started to make something of a recovery, while some classic spots just refuse to give in to the big guns.

Alternative cinemas in Rio can be classified into three groups: cultural centers, independent film houses, and traditional ‘cinémas de rua’ (street cinemas) that preserve the movie-watching experience of a bygone era.

The centros culturais (cultural centers) can be found throughout Rio, mostly sponsored by banks, corporations or private foundations and typically include film programming in addition to exhibitions, libraries and other cultural events.

The Casa de Cultura Laura Alvim is a prime example. Set in a preserved house right on Ipanema’s beachfront road, it was donated to the state for continued use as a culture hub following art-lover Alvim’s death in 1984, just months after it had opened. A three-screen cinema was added in 2006 and continues to feature a rich selection of independent and foreign films.

Caixa Cultural, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) and Centro Cultural Justiça Federal also contain at least one cinema in their downtown spaces. As with the exhibitions, ticket prices are often heavily subsidized and filmgoers checking out any Festival do Rio movies should remember that while most theaters are charging R$18 per ticket, a ticket to a movie at CCBB is just R$6.

Grupo Estação is the leading independent cinema group in Rio. Opening their first location in Botafogo in 1985, the team was determined to bring back the art of cinema to the city, lost with the demise of Cinelândia where only the majestic old Odéon now remains. Today, the group runs six cinemas across the city, most of which also house cafés, libraries, and events spaces, and are the go-to locations for alternative films.

Cinema Leblon, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

Cinema Leblon is a traditional cinema de rua, photo by Kristen Nozell.

Cine Santa is a fully independent film house located in Santa Teresa. The theater has no executive sponsor, and was founded in 2003 as a social project with screenings in various locations throughout the neighborhood before settling into its current space. For a small outfit they get an excellent array of big-budget as well as indie films.

With the invasion of franchised movie theaters, many former ‘cinémas de rua’ have been converted into churches or other non-cinematic establishments, but several symbolic film houses still exist. Cinéma Odeon stands on the main square of Cinelândia, the heart of Carioca cinema at the time of the theater’s inauguration in 1926. Grupo Estação’s one-room theater remains the epicentre of the annual film festival and the sole survivor from this once-thriving mecca of celluloid.

The Roxy is another much-loved gem from a golden age of cinema. Inaugurated in 1938 on Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, Roxy plays box-office hits but the traditional allure of the old cinema has been kept intact. The same can be said of Cinéma Leblon, the exclusive neighborhood’s original 1951 big screen on a bustling corner of Rua Ataúlfo da Paiva.

Another historic cinema de rua not to be overlooked is Copacabana’s Cine Joia, reopened in 2011 after being closed for five years. The renovations were thanks to businessman turned film-maker Raphael Aguinaga, who wanted to preserve the 1950s locale to stand up against the prevailing influence of big commercial films. The 87-seat, single-screen theater shows indie flicks for just R$10.

Maria Figueiredo is a frequent cinema-goer, firmly preferring the charm of these alternative theaters. “Even if I’m seeing the same film, it’s a different experience”, she told The Rio Times. “The ambiance is more pleasant and there’s a certain kind of nostalgia. I love to think that, in a way, I can have the same experience that my grandparents’ generation had.”

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