Maps 1 - A listless cinematic culture (and a brief trip with my niece)

Maps 1 - A listless cinematic culture (and a brief trip with my niece)

By: Elsa Demo


This article is part of the article series MAPS – A Written Journey on Albanian Contemporary Art. The series, commissioned by UNAA x ArtNexus Program, will not merely shed light on the artistic production and distribution; they aim to critically analyze and document the prevailing conditions and methodologies that artists navigate. By doing this, they not only bolster the advocacy facet of the ArtNexus initiative but also weave art back into the fabric of everyday conversations, stimulating economic growth within the sector.

written by Elsa Demo

To provide a comprehensive overview of the landscape of cinema and the range of film screenings and broadcasting in Albania, I conducted research in multiple localities - those with established cinematic cultures, as well as those where the tradition has been disrupted or completely lost.1 At first glance, Albania's cinematic landscape appears bleak: the country lacks public and town cinemas. However, beneath the surface lies a complex interplay of societal forces - including dominant trends, popular tastes, and societal entropy - that have transformed the role of cinema as a public space in recent years.
During this exploration, I was often accompanied by my teenage niece. Her presence sparked questions about the significance of cinema for young people - how they engage with it, and how it presents them with various models of imagination, both healthy and troubling.
To take a specific example, we invited two of her friends to watch “The Little Mermaid” at a traditional cinema in Tirana. Although it took some effort, they managed to abstain from popcorn and cell phone usage during the film. Interestingly, my niece found the movie less impactful than Hans Christian Andersen's original fairy tale. In the story, the sea witch never conquers the seven seas, and the little mermaid doesn't find her happily ever after with the prince; instead, she sacrifices herself to become a “daughter of the air” in another life. "The fairy tale made me cry," she said as we left the cinema, and later elaborated on this sentiment in an essay.
This led me to reflect on Susan Sontag's observation from the 1990s, which emphasized cinema more as an industry than as an art form: “If cinephilia is dead, then movies are dead too. If cinema can be reborn, it will only happen through the birth of a new kind of love for cinema.”2

"At first glance, Albania's cinematic landscape appears bleak: the country lacks public and town cinemas. However, beneath the surface lies a complex interplay of societal forces - including dominant trends, popular tastes, and societal entropy - that have transformed the role of cinema as a public space in recent years."

To demonstrate the experience of a different kind of movie theatre, I took my young companion out of the city to watch “Barbie” in a multiplex space.“3 Coming here was a good idea,” she commented. We purchased our tickets at the same counter where popcorn and nachos were sold, in keeping up with international consumption trends. We walked into a nearly empty auditorium that was only occupied by a young woman and a girl. Settling into the spacious red seats, we were engulfed in a 360-degree soundscape and high-quality visuals, thanks to RealD 3D transmission technology and a laser projector - very different from what was offered at Millenium, Albania's first modern cinema, two decades ago.4
Here, the observations of researchers who discuss the synergy between the international architectural style of cineplexes and Hollywood films ring true. Both create the illusion that the American model of mass consumption is universally accessible, regardless of gender, class, or ethnicity.5 Indeed, since 1981 - starting in Belgium - the multiplex cinema phenomenon has been an active component of a lifestyle centered around heightened consumption in Europe.
As we exited the theatre, we concluded that “it was well-worth watching it”, this movie was awash in pinks, though monochrome in the narrative and simplified in characters. It presented a transformative moment for the Barbie doll: upon returning to the real world as a human woman, she experiences body awareness for the first time and promptly seeks an appointment with a gynecologist.

But what drew us in, and to which audience do we belong?

According to Michael Haneke, mainstream cinema fosters the illusion that we understand reality. In this realm, notions of good and evil become easily consumable, and sometimes even enjoyable. Yet, in reality, our perception is limited; we don't truly understand people or the world around us. We may talk, but genuine communication is often lacking. Consequently, it’s a true art that offers glimpses into the complexities of life. Fragmentation - reflecting the disjointed experiences common in urban life - serves as a means for viewers to discover their own interpretations and insights. This nuanced approach is commonly found in auteur films and independent cinema.
At the “Agimi”6 cinema, pardon, at the “Agimi” Audiovisual Art Center (whose logo resembles a naïf sketch of a single cell), recent screenings included video art and short films produced by students from the University of Arts. While waiting for the 8:00 p.m. showtime, groups of young people gathered and smoked on the sidewalk outside the “Agimi” building. These are young audiences who are drawn to unconventional cultural events. They have the flexibility to consume films through various mediums and settings: multiplexes, art houses, television, DVDs, computers, and even smartphones and tablets. Consequently, as various studies on cinema-going habits suggest, the rise of streaming services doesn't necessarily signal the end of the traditional cinematic experience. These young audiences could be described as cultural omnivores or Europhiles with a penchant for European films. They are also eclectics who regard cinema as more than mere entertainment.

"Given our lack of studies in this domain, we must question whether the “Agimi” center will be able to present non-conventional values and cinema since such mediums promote unpopular thinking - a notion much emphasized by Pier Paolo Pasolini. According to him, this type of thinking should challenge conventional expectations and realities, making viewers uncomfortable with their own viewpoints and the hegemonic perspectives presented. In essence, such a venue must foster critical engagement from its audience. Notably, “Agimi” is the only state-funded venue in Albania that meets the appropriate criteria for film projection."

Policymakers in the realm of culture often refer to hybrid spaces like “Agimi” as multifunctional hubs serving the creative industry.
“A visit to the “Agimi” Centre is a must if you want to be cool”, declared a TV presenter, identifying it as a trendy locale. In marketing terms, the center aims to attract a diverse audience. For instance, the Tirana pre-premiere of “Mission Impossible” featured a marketing strategy designed to lure “univores” - audience members who primarily engage with mainstream culture. The event elevated the cinematic experience by offering drinks and a DJ.

"A pungent aroma emanates from the basement of the “Agimi” center. Years ago, the building’s façade featured posters advertising pornographic movies7, a backdrop against which people daily traversed the streets of Tirana - a city bristling with unemployment and migration, the cost of the shock therapy that was meant to transition it from authoritarian socialism to democratic capitalism."

To this day, Tirana remains a city where the unemployed and migrants can easily access pornography and ultra-violence by simply accessing devices (often without bothering with parental controls).
In the refurbished “Agimi”, the décor leans towards a light cream hue enhanced by sophisticated lighting design. Soft sofas and velour curtains are prevalent, and the traditional red seats have been replaced with green ones. However, the center still struggles with acoustic insulation, as loud noises from the outside often permeate the space. The venue has hosted classics like Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” and recently held the first edition of the Young European Filmmakers Festival, which included the screening of Fatmir Koçi’s “Nekrologji” (Necrology) for the first time in 30 years, and concluded with a red carpet gala - reflecting the pitfalls provincial festivals can succumb to, especially when organized by people with conflicts of interest, often spouses who engage friend’s children as cinephile8 crews, the whole of which hasn’t allowed festivals to grow into real artistic events for a vital community. In the absence of public and not-for-profit cinemas, festivals are the only ones that can bring back some life into this apathy and torpor. Both cinemas and festivals remain largely disconnected from educational institutions like schools and universities, which lack educational programs related to film. This educational void partly explains the sparse attendance even during film festivals.
In both Tirana and Shkodër, cinema clubs or art houses sporadically operate, specializing primarily in independent films. Artist Lek Gjeloshi has been organizing a cinema club at the “Art House” in Shkodër since April. This initiative parallels others that have been operating for years, such as the ones at the “Xhim e Xhon Belushi” cinema (120 seats), those within the “Marubi” school, and occasionally the ones at the National Film Archive (120 seats). The opening session of this cinema club celebrated black comedy, featuring iconic films spanning the 80s, 90s, and 00s: Davide Manuli’s “Legend of Kaspar Hauser”, Tony Scott’s “True Romance”, Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours”, and “Four Rooms” by Rodriguez/Anders/Rockwell/Tarantino. After a summer hiatus, the cinema club, with a core group of 20-30 members, will reconvene in September. “We’re not interested in introducing new trends, but rather in reassessing existing works. Our focus isn’t on the spectacle, but on understanding film as a visual and auditory experience,” says Lek. From this viewpoint, “a cinema can burn down, but never die down”, emphasizing the importance of reinvigorating audiences for the sake of cinema culture.
When I inquired about the viewership statistics for Albanian films at the National Centre of Cinematography, they referred me to private cinemas. This referral underscored the complexities hindering the development of a domestic film market, ranging from issues related to filmmaker associations and producers to author rights and distribution of both Albanian and European productions.
Millennium Cinema did not respond to my request for information. On the other hand, the Marketing Office at CineplexxAL provided a list, which I cannot fully disclose without obtaining permission from each distributor for Albanian films! The absence of complete statistics makes it nearly impossible for researchers to paint an accurate picture of the audience based solely on viewership and box office numbers. Many producers, whether due to their brief stint in the market or out of fear of tax audits, often withhold data. Surprisingly, they sometimes even organize premieres without inviting journalists. This lack of transparency is notable, especially given that their films are often financed by public funds from both Albanian and European taxpayers, such as through Euroimages or Creative Europe. (It’s worth noting that for these programs, the annual fees are again footed by the Albanian government.

"According to CineplexxAL's statistics from 2019 to 2020 9 Albanian films financed by the National Centre of Cinematography have attracted disappointingly low viewership. Competition from blockbuster films, public taste, and the quality of Albanian cinema all contribute to this situation. However, what can be said about “The Hive”, which screened in Tirana following the most significant international acclaim any Albanian-language film has ever received? These figures should be a cause for concern for the National Centre of Cinematography, the Ministry of Culture, and every municipality."

In Korça, there is a cinema, but it lacks projection equipment.10 Gledis Bica plans to rent the necessary gear to host the Short Film Festival in Korça from September 18-22. Gledis would never opt for a commercial cineplex for his next screening, as he believes that commercial and cultural values represent two fundamentally different approaches to appreciating cinema. For him, the development of local cinemas is a public good that should concern local municipalities.
As for Shkodra, it does have a cinema, but its current status - whether private or public - is ambiguous as of this writing.
Gjirokastra is a delusion amid tourism propaganda. While the vintage damask seats at the “Musine Kokalari” center might seem inviting, the last proper thing shown there was “Sako’s Wedding” back in 1998. The photographs speak for themselves.
As for Elbasan, it's a city that flourished under a centralized economy but faltered in a market-driven one.11 When we asked municipal culture specialists about local cinema options, they said “Yes, go to Luca, in Labinot-Fushë”. American movies from Cineplex pass through there. It’s closed in the summer. Chez Luca the trade of nostalgia syncs with fish business.
The cinema in Patos12, the town of my teen years, stands emblematic of numerous brutalist structures, struggling to reconcile their past and future identities.

"Regardless of whether cinemas are independently operated, overseen by local governments, or owned by major corporations, Albania’s Ministry of Culture must establish a legal framework for nurturing both cinema culture and national film production.13 An example: Consider the National Film Fund in Romania, which imposes quotas on film distribution and screening. Recognizing cinema as a national cultural asset, Romanian cinemas are mandated to allocate at least 5% of their programming to domestic films, including 1% during prime times. For TV stations - both public and private - the quota is 2%.

In contrast, Albania’s ministers seem more interested in curating a shallow social media presence and organizing “Film Nights” in their offices than in developing a substantive policy for the film industry and its audiences."

Eager to escape the mainstream tastes dictated by Disney or “cool” trends, my niece and I retreated to home entertainment. As a kind of individualized audience, we delved into classics like De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” and Dreyer’s “Vampyr” and “The Passion of Joan of Arc”, courtesy of the Criterion Collection channel. My niece was particularly struck by the tavern scene, where there’s a stark class confrontation over a plate of food; the terror induced by dreams delving into the past; and the scene with the girl’s chopped hair, during the trial. Now she understands the difference between a movie and a film.


About the author

Elsa Demo (Ph.D. in Literary Studies) has written and published reports, analyses, and essays on arts and culture in Albanian in the media outlets for two decades. She has been a lecturer in journalism and History of Arts at the University of Tirana and Elbasan. Together with Ardian Klosi, she is the co-editor of two documentary and literary anthologies, “Albania Remembers. 1944-1991” and “Albania Confesses 1991-2010”. She is the author of “At the Theatre” (2023) and “Grayish green into black" (2023). She lives in Tirana.

© UNA Albania 2023

Note: The photographs of Cinema ‘Majestic’ were taken by Orestia Kapidani. The archival pictures are from AQSHF. Other photographs are taken by the author of the article.

1 According to the 2022 report from the International Union of Cinemas, Albania has a total of 19 cinema screens—note that this refers to individual screens, not fully operational cinemas. Among the 38 European countries surveyed, Albania ranks 36th in terms of the fewest number of screens, trailing only North Macedonia and Montenegro, both of which have smaller populations. As per Eurimages' criteria—the cinema fund established by the Council of Europe—a European country should have at least one cinema per 40,000 residents. With a registered population of 2.9 million, Albania falls short of meeting this standard. Among Albania's 72 cities, the largest ones notably lack dedicated city cinemas. These include Tirana (895,160 inhabitants); Durrës (205,849); Shkodra (135,612); Elbasan (141,714); Vlora (189,311); Korça, (86,176); Fieri (120,655); Berat (69,000); and Lushnja (54,813). This absence also extends to smaller cities such as Lezha, Kukës, Kruja and Saranda. For a comprehensive history of Albanian cinemas from their inception up to the 2000s, consult: “Arti i shtatë në Tiranë”, Spiro Mëhilli, AQSHF, 2011. For information on the period between 1991 and 2003, the insightful report by journalist Mishel Koçiu and chronicles featured on Klan TV are excellent references:;;


Susane Sontag, The Decay of Cinema, New York Times, 1996


In 2013, a cineplex cinema opened in Tirana East Gate Shopping Centre, followed by another in Universe Shopping Centre in 2018. These cineplexes are part of a corporation founded in Vienna in 1993, which operates 35 multiplexes and 6 traditional cinemas across various countries, including Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Italy.


Following the multiple destructions of the “Republika” Cinema, also known as “Millennium 1”, a multifunctional centre was eventually established in its place: “Millennium 2” was subsequently developed in the former cinema hall of the Pioneer Palace (a building designed in the 1970s by Max Velo). This project was undertaken by IDA sh.a. (International Distribution for Albania), a company that briefly managed a network of Millennium cinemas in various cities, including Elbasan, Shkodër, and Korçë, as well as the “Summer Millennium” cinema in Saranda. The failure of this network disrupted the public's engagement with Albanian cinema in a significant way. IDA sh.a. has also faced accusations of financial misconduct, including failing to pay the mandatory 1% of ticket revenue to the National Cinematography Center (I covered the legal proceedings related to this issue in a 2002 article for the “Korrieri” newspaper). Additionally, the company has been charged with the misappropriation of public property: For more information on the Millennium network, you can explore the following chronicles:;;;;;


Phil Hubbard, Going Out (of Town): New Geographies of Cinema-Going in the UK,


The “Agimi'' Center, managed by the Municipality of Tirana, has been inaugurated for the third time: The cinema now offers 100 seats and was once a part of the now-defunct “Imperial” network, comprised by: two halls (100 and 300 seats) in the Sheraton Hotel, equipped with an interlogo system; Imperial 3, a summer cinema at the University of Arts with 500 seats; two halls in the Kristal complex. According to Mëhilli, the “Agimi'' cinema originally opened in 1957 and was often referred to as the “cinema of the Soviets”, due to the Soviet families residing in the surrounding buildings. It featured a main platform with 188 seats and a loggia with an additional 32 seats, at the same level. Classified as a third-category cinema, it screened films that had already run their course in the main cinemas. The Municipality of Tirana also oversees the non-operational “Max Velo” cinema in Laprakë, which has 120 seats. Originally designed by Max Velo to accommodate 220 seats, it was inaugurated on November 7, 1967, under the name “Red Star” and closed in 1997. Future plans indicate that these venues will serve as art centres, hosting exhibitions, theatre performances and film screenings. Additionally, the Municipality manages the multifunctional centre “TEN”, which is currently undergoing its second round of renovations, with plans to include a cinema space.


I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to “Cinephile”, an anonymous individual who played a significant role in introducing me to the world of cinema. After reaching out to him via email, he curated a DVD for me - albeit a pirated one - filled with essential films. This encounter took place around the turn of the millennium. Contrary to what one might expect, “Cinephile” was an unassuming person, devoid of any cinematic aspirations or affiliations with film circles. Nonetheless, his refined taste in cinema has had a lasting impact on me, and for that, I am thankful.


This data is being released for the first time. It follows the viewership of some public-funded films: “Ndërkombëtarët” – 57 viewers, “Zgjoi” – 38, “Dy luanë drejt Venecias” -163, “Bolero në vilën e pleqve” – 1011, “Portret i pambaruar” – 118, “Nji prej nesh” – 129. Some private productions: “Dashuri dhe turbulenca” – 20438, “Lugina e djallit” – 268, “Sofia” – 24810, “I Love Tropoja” – 50954, “2 gisht mjaltë” – 101150, “Falco” -7675. In 2019, Cineplexx Albania reported an average monthly viewership of 30,000 across both of its shopping centre locations, totaling approximately 500,000 viewers annually. According to the 2022 report from the International Union of Cinemas, the top five films in Albania for 2021 were: “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, “No Time to Die”, “Shkëmbimi” (an Albanian movie with 11,426 viewers), “F9” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage”.


Mamica Mano, one of the heirs to the “Majestic” cinema in Korça, established between 1926 and 1927, told me: “I would wish for it to keep on operating as a cinema, although that seems increasingly challenging given today's societal norms. We live in an age absorbed by social media; however, I’ve kept the old festival posters up to preserve a sense of nostalgia and tradition. Our predecessors had a more visionary approach to the community.” Sotiraq, a maths teacher, fondly recalls the “Morava” cinema, painting a vivid picture of the entire atmosphere along the “Republika” Boulevard. His memories include the former lyceum, the once-popular pastry shop “Moskva”, Stalin's bust, and the Church of Saint Sotir, all of which existed in harmony with the cinema. Diana, an engineer, reminisced about her experiences at “Morava”, which was the communist-period name for the “Majestic”. She watched an array of films there, from biographies of great musicians like Liszt and Chopin to pre-war American classics like “Cleopatra” and “The Land of Pharaohs”, all dubbed in Italian. “Screenings took place throughout the day with intervals in between”, she said. “Tickets for the most popular films were always hard to find. Unfortunately, the rise of television in the 1980s marked the beginning of the end for cinemas.”


Xhavit bey Biçakçi’s cinema, originally named “Beethoven” and later rebranded as “National”, first opened its doors in 1935. By 1962, the venue began to serve as a theatre as well. Additionally, a summer cinema was constructed on the premises, although it no longer exists. In 1967, another cinema, “11 November”, was established, followed by “Millennium”, which was eventually demolished when the land was returned to its original owner. The “Pionieri” cinema was located against the castle walls, a space now occupied by the Public Offices. “Kinometalurgu”, which has since been transformed into a shopping centre - as evidenced by our photographs - was a specific type of cinema erected in large worker centres and designed by notable architects like Valentina Pistoli, Gj. Kroqi, F. Idrizi, and V. Russi.


In Patos, a cinema hall has been part of the cultural palace since 1971. The venue features 700 seats in plywood benches. Instead of a screen, the hall has an old hanging buckram, and it currently lacks a projector.


Ioana Uricaru, “Follow the Money - Financing Contemporary Cinema in Romania”, in “A Companion to Eastern European Cinemas”, edited by Anikó Imre, 2012, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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