The Beltrade is a former parish hall turned into an arthouse cinema with a programming independent from the Church.
Nestled in a corner of the Santa Maria Beltrade Parish in the North-East of Milan, this old local cinema was opened by the Church in 1940 and proposed then popular films with one or two new movies each week. In 2012, the cultural association Barz & Hippo took over the management and, over a few months, the number of spectators went from 50 to 500 per week. This transformation was the fruit of the efforts led by Paola and Monica who both wished to rethink the activity of the space. They decided to offer a wider spectrum of films but also to bring attention to independent films in their original version as well as the work of young Italian cineasts with little visibility. In the same process, the cinema went from being open 4 days to 7 days a week, and they also started showing more films. Today, 5 to 6 films are screened every day, programmed at different times so that everyone can discover them.
For a few years now, we have understood people are very curious about documentaries, young authors and film festivals. When they come here, they want to talk about the contents they’ve just seen and also meet people they might share common interests with : they want to take part in the cinema’s life a watch different things than what they usually see in other cinemas
The Beltrade rapidly became the meeting place for cinephiles of Milan, and more generally for a mixed public of all ages. During our visit, Zelia Eleonora Zbogar told us « For a few years now, we have understood people are very curious about documentaries, young authors and film festivals. When they come here, they want to talk about the contents they’ve just seen and also meet people they might share common interests with : they want to take part in the cinema’s life a watch different things than what they usually see in other cinemas ». This curiosity is quenched by the hosting of numerous festivals (Collateral screens of filmmakers, 30h30 Guardia, Festival di Africa America Latina) as well as happy hour nights when the audience can eat and drink before the film in the presence of the director.
A particular attention is also given to the children through the setting up of a stop-motion film creation lab and the hosting of marathon nights – the aim being to watch as many films as possible in a day, from 11 am to 2am : « the more films you watch, the less you pay for each », explains Zelia. After each cinematographic season, the audience is invited to rate the films : the films with the higher grades are screened again on the first week of reopening after the summer. Spectator scan also vote all year long in the foyer for their favourite films to be screened again : upon reaching 20 participants for the « on demand » screening (called CINEMaRICHIESTA) an email is sent to voters to come and watch the film. Masterclasses are also hosted sometimes, in collaboration with the Milan Cinema School, and are usually open to the public.
The cinema owns its popularity to the social media as well as a newsletter. In the newsletter, some keywords are given for the visitors to repeat at the box office in order to receive a discount on tickets. The Beltrade also collaborates on organizing events with other local venues (bars, shops…) such as the latest themed day around cycling, with workshops, films screenings, happy hour and music.
The cinema offers activities beyond the traditional films programming. The cafe, ran by the church, is open every evening for the visitors of the cinema. The foyer houses a DVD stall with a bespoke film selection, and also welcomes a photography exhibition linked to the films programming every trimester.
The Beltrade has gone through a radical transformation by betting on the curiosity of its audience and on the widening of its activities, thus turning itself into an unmissable place for the social and cultural local life.
Translation by Eva Jaurena ♥