While the treatment of migrants in Europe keeps getting worse, with refugees in some cases being denied food or even deported, a movie theatre in Berlin has for the past two years opened its doors to the newly arrived. “We took the idea from the ‘suspended coffee’ concept,” says Iris from Moviemento Kino in Kreuzberg, one of Germany’s oldest cinemas. “Suspended coffee” is a Neapolitan tradition whereby customers can pay for an extra coffee that will be offered to whoever comes next that cannot afford it. Similarly, this movie theatre in Berlin has been offering free “karmatickets” to what Iris appropriately refers to as “new Berliners.” Regular customers can purchase them at discounted prices and leave a complementary ticket for the less fortunate that will come after them. The idea was born after the staff at Moviemento received requests from organizations that work with refugees. It was then that they decided to introduce this simple policy of cinematic solidarity, granting the lowly luxury of film-going also to those who normally wouldn’t even consider it. For if cinema might not be a primary need, the desire to be culturally stimulated or simply entertained is indeed a universal one. “Sometimes we just offer complementary entries to those who turn up at the box office and can’t pay for the ticket,” says Iris. The Berlin cinema has also hosted over forty “Willkommensklassen,” pre-school language courses aimed at children before they start attending regular classes in local schools. The programming at Moviemento Kino has consequently made room for its new audiences, which has resulted into a widening of the offer for the regular customers as well. Highlights from the past two years include a screening of Sonita—a documentary about the Afghan rapper and refugee Sonita Alizadeh—attended by Afghan women with their daughters. “It was a very emotional screening,” recounts Iris, “at the end of the film everybody was crying and for most of them it was the first time at the movies.” A special program for new Berliners called CIMA Berlin featured queer films made in and around the German capital with Arabic live translation and English subtitles.
Moviemento Kino has a long and honored history, legend has it that the term “kintopp,” German for movie or picture, was coined by its then-owner Alfred Topp, who established the cinema in the function room of his restaurant. David Bowie could be regularly seen there during his Berlin days, Tom Twyker worked there as a programming director, and Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten was part of the management at one point. Upon visiting the German capital for the Berlinale, Nadia and Paola who run the Cinema Beltrade in Milan met with the people of Moviemento Kino and decided to adopt the same exact Karmaticket policy. The Beltrade is one of the very few movies theatres in Milan that screen films in their original languages, in a country where dubbing is still the parochial rule. Not only that, the cinema maintains a policy of low prices and regularly offers discounts or even free tickets to economically vulnerable categories: students, unemployed workers, pensioners and now refugees. While most reactions that followed the announcement were positive, some members of the Italian media, in perfect line with the xenophobic course of their new government, accused them of “reverse racism.” It’s a charge that Cinema Beltrade cannot possibly be accused of given their track record of ticketing policies aimed at the lower classes, irrespective of skin color. “Our cinema has been a place for inter-cultural encounters from day one,” stated Nadia of Cinema Beltrade in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica, “Italians come here to learn new languages as much as foreigners come to learn Italian by either reading the subtitles or watching Italian films.” While the initiative has only recently been launched, the staff has been in contact with Italian-language schools for refugees and shelters to coordinate their new project. “Migrants can be of any nationality and color,” pointed out Nadia in her interview with La Repubblica, “also Italian”—as they indeed have been in the past and, to a lesser extent, continue to be these days. This is something many inhabitants of the sunny Mediterranean peninsula seem to have forgotten, and ironically so, since it is precisely through cinema that the history and (not always "crystalline") legacy of their migration was forever immortalized.