20. August 2016

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The "64 U Hradeb" venue on Mostecká street in Mala Strana is no secret to filmmakers and cinephiles alike – for them, it’s the cult movie theatre U Hradeb, which before 1989 was the most modern cinema in Prague. Especially in the 1960s, this was where Prague and national premieres of Czechoslovak and foreign films were screened; nearly all of important premieres of the Czechoslovak New Wave were shown there.
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In the 1930s, the insurance group Koruna gained part of the current premises and tore down both houses that then stood on it. WWII disrupted further construction, and after the communists took power, the Ministry of Defence was keen to use it to build housing for the armed forces, as well as a so-called cultural centre for officers. Originally, the idea was to have a theatre according to the Soviet model, and later a cinema seating 600. A new architectural design from 1954 preserved the character of the original two gabled Gothic houses, in keeping with the character and scale of the street. A courtyard was built between the houses. The interiors were to be in the so-called Brussels style. The construction was completed in 1964, and the space became a home for the aforementioned cinema. For several years after the Velvet Revolution, it was in the ownership of Barrandov film studios, and for a while it was again premiering Czech films. Its retreat from the limelight began in the latter half of the 1990s with the arrival of multiplexes. The cinema was sold, and in 2002 it was shuttered – a storm of protest erupted among preservationists and the media when it was in danger of being made into an underground parking lot. Although they managed to halt the construction of the garage, that same year flood waters destroyed the building, which remained unused.

How do the 64 U Hradeb premises look today? Once you leave the busy Mostecká street and walk through the passage by the original showcases for movie posters, you find yourself in a small, paved square courtyard. Measuring some 20 x 20 metres, the courtyard creates an atrium enclosed by buildings with narrow archways and arcades. In the middle of it and its dominant feature - the Little Dancer statue from 1960, situated in the centre of a low, circular fountain. The second important feature of the space is a three-storey building facade in the colour of pale sand, visible behind the statue and fountain. Its most prominent feature is the separate entrance itself, which consists of distinctive seven-level granite staircases with four glass doors in brown wooden frames, which make for a dignified entrance and allow an opportunity to gaze upon the interior. Above the doors, on the portal, are shinning four round lights – a symbolic "beacon" for fans of this place. To the right of the entrance, we then find a separate passage of some 30 metres with a partially glazed roof with soft bricks, leading to another of the entrances to 64 U Hradeb. To the left of the entrance are terraces with modern gardens and a view of the surrounding historical buildings, including a part of the original fortifications of the ancient town.

The space of the theatre itself (approx. 3,000 square meters) offers quite a diverse mix of below-ground interiors, including the main hall which has a balcony seating 600 spectators, as well as spacious corridors. The foundation of the theatre is a preserved section of the once mighty Malostranska walls from the 13th century. The main hall has an ample round stage, which corresponds to the theatre as originally intended. The atmosphere of the main hall is a mix of the poetics of raw industry, based on bricks, iron and concrete, and the poetics of the "sanctity" of the consecrated film and theatre space. It is worth noting that the theatre was built in the post-war era, not with uniform amphitheatre auditorium but with the space divided between the floor and a balcony in the style of a pre-war cinema. The modern interior is the work of František Trmač (Hotel Internacional in Dejvice). All the interiors of the cinemas were destroyed by floods in 2002, and so the space unintentionally acquired its current raw form, offering exciting new possibilities for applications such as shooting films or holding special cultural events. And there were several such event held in the cinema last year and this year – including the introduction of Phantom file Sabotanic Garden, the site-specific performance called 64 file TOPOS, a concert of contemporary music by the Berg orchestra and the filming a video clip for the Museum of Prague exhibition Prague cinemas – a defunct world of darkened halls.

Work to save the space began in August 2015. Renewal of the area of 64 U Hradeb was initiated by Jan Čep, and this March, along with a team of colleagues, he founded the group We Are U Hradeb. The author of an architectural study of the building's restoration is the studio Linhart Architects. The aim of the project is to build a multifunctional cultural centre with cutting-edge technology and an emphasis on audio-visual and film production, but also of directly and indirectly related creative arts. The renewal project will have several stages, with the main one due for completion by the end of 2018. Ongoing, however, will be the realisation of various projects and events, and fans of cinema 64 U Hradeb will be able to transform the place together. "As an inherent part of our project, we see utilisation of the space for the purpose of filming or photographing both in its present form, and in the future. The space 64 U Hradeb has a "cinematic soul", and so is a home for every filmmaker," says Jan Čep. Contact: The association We Are U Hradeb – (+420 733 646 464, produkce@64uhradeb.cz), Jan Čep (+420 777 099 999, jan@64uhradeb.cz)