As Kino International celebrates its 60th anniversary, we take a moment to reflect on its storied past, marked by cinematic triumphs and historical milestones.
This iconic cinema, a masterpiece of modernist architecture, has not just been a movie theater; it has witnessed the ebb and flow of history.
Designed by Josef Kaiser and Heinz Aust, Kino International stands as a testament to European modernism. The cinema's 14-part sculptural relief, "Aus dem Leben heutiger Menschen," is a significant aspect of its design, embodying the spirit of the era. The building itself had everything for ceremonial East German film premieres in the presence of the state leadership: a separate row with extra legroom, a representation room for receptions, and even its own bomb shelter.
But its first official premiere on November 15, 1963 took an unexpected turn. During the premiere of the Soviet drama An Optimistic Tragedy, Walter Ulbricht, then chief decision maker of the East German state, left the cinema early and visibly angry due to a malfunctioning film print. This incident, though a hiccup, would only mark the beginning of Kino International's rich and eventful history.
Three years later, in 1966, the screening of Spur der Steine became a flashpoint for political controversy. Party leadership disliked the film for its critical view of the East German state through the lens of a construction site love triangle, and staged protests during the first days of the screenings in front of the cinema. The staged riots were taken as an opportunity to ban the film. Only a few days after the premiere, it disappeared from the programme and director Frank Beyer's career was put on hold for years. Only two weeks after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it made a return to screens.
Kino International’s most successful film during the GDR period was Solo Sunny, a groundbreaking East German film that narrated the story of a young, independent woman navigating life and love in East Berlin. With over 100,000 admissions, it wasn't just a box-office success; it was a cultural phenomenon.
It was one of the few cinemas in East Berlin that showcased selected Western productions. Films like Cabaret (1972), Out of Africa (1985), and notably Dirty Dancing, which was shown six times daily for eleven weeks, brought a taste of Western cinema to East Berlin.
1989: A history-making Coming Out
Perhaps the most remarkable night in its history was November 9, 1989, during the premiere of Coming Out. The film title was to become the programme for the fate of an entire nation on the same night.
As the film, a groundbreaking portrayal of gay life in East Germany, was being screened, the Berlin Wall fell. When the guests left the cinema, they found themselves in a whole different reality. The premiere night of Coming Out remains etched in history as a turning point not only for Germany but also for Kino International, with the film serving as a bridge between the cinema's past and future.
After German reunification
Since taking over in 1992, Yorck Kinogruppe has played a crucial role in not only preserving Kino International's legacy but also in transforming it into a dynamic space for contemporary cinema. The introduction of the Mongay film series in 1997, celebrating queer cinema, is a continuation of the legacy of the Coming Out premiere.
Discussing German history remains a cornerstone of our programming for Kino International. Films like Good Bye Lenin!, Gundermann, and The Lives of Others reflect our commitment to exploring Germany's multifaceted history.
Kino International has been an integral venue for the Berlinale, hosting a diverse array of films and filmmakers. Beyond the festival, Kino International has evolved into a hub for international film premieres, welcoming global talent such as Spike Lee, Taika Waititi, Charlotte Wells, and Barry Jenkins, thus cementing its status in the international film community.
But in maintaining this cinema throughout the new century, Yorck Kinogruppe has faced and surmounted significant challenges. The advent of the multiplex era in the early 2000s led to the closure of many program cinemas. Notably, the sister cinema Kosmos, also designed by Josef Kaiser, ceased operations in 2005 despite its heritage status. Navigating Kino International through these turbulent times has been a testament to our commitment to preserving this cinematic landmark.
Continuously caring for this architectural gem, we are embarking on a major renovation project in 2024. This necessary endeavor, aimed at ensuring the building meets future needs while preserving its historical essence, will temporarily close the cinema for over a year. We are committed to reinvigorating Kino International for future generations, ensuring its place as a key venue in film culture.
As Kino International celebrates this 60th anniversary, we honour a legacy that goes beyond its walls. It's a celebration of the power of cinema to reflect society, challenge norms, and bring people together. This Yorck cinema has been a witness to history, a home for groundbreaking films, and a space where different – sometimes even conflicting – narratives share the same stage.
Kino International stands as a testament to the transformative power of cinema, and a guardian of a rich cinematic heritage. As we look to its future, it's exciting to continue this journey, inviting audiences from around the world to partake in the unique experiences that only a place with such a rich history can offer.
Dive deeper into the captivating history of Kino International with the full documentary available now on YouTube and Yorck On Demand. Featuring enriching archival footage and greetings from luminaries like Christian Petzold, Tilda Swinton, Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Ira Sachs, Volker Schlöndorff, Jannis Niewöhner, and many others. Available with English subtitles.
Several films from Kino International's history are back on the big screen for its anniversary. See the full programming guide here.