A literal stone’s throw from Mariatorget’s tunnelbana station, there’s an unmarked door that has something very special behind it. Open it up, and you can wander down a little passageway into Valentino Foster’s playground, where’s he’s build his very own cinema. Bio Valentino was born after Valentino moved to Sweden from the US last year, and decided that he needed a project that would help him settle into and become a part of his local community at Mariatorget. We met him on a quiet Tuesday to find out more about the cinema.
Where did the initial idea for the cinema come from, and was it always something you had wanted to do?
When I first moved here, I wanted a space to be creative. I do a lot of multi-media work and design, and I wanted a place close to my home. So I found this spot, which reminded me of something you might find in New York, kind of industrial and charming. It used to be an old vintage shop [Modern Retro], so it was a lot bigger than I thought when I got it emptied out. I knew it was 185m2, which to my American self didn’t really register of course. At that point bigger ideas started to bubble. I saw some of my friends’ spaces, and here it’s like everyone has their own batcave. But I didn’t want to isolate myself more here in Sweden, so my wife suggested I get a projector and show films. The best part is the community started to get involved and were so enthusiastic, and had so many suggestions, so that encouraged me to go for it. Why not go for 4k projection, why not go for 5.1 surround sound and so on. So I started building it myself.
The classic Stockholm creative space is pretty much a rabbit hole people disappear into, but you had just moved here last year, so for you this is a way to bring the community in and bring yourself into the community?
Exactly. Literally having my door open, as I often do. It invites a dialogue with the neighbourhood I really wanted.
You’ve had a couple of events here now Panoramica, CinemAfrica and others, how have the first few events gone, how has the process of getting them off the ground and seeing the place in action been?
Panoramica and CinemAfrica are amazing groups, and have been amazing in giving me the experience I needed to move forward. When I started to work with them, I didn’t know a lot of important things, and then being so open and understanding of being a new cinema was great. I have to thank Dina [Afkhampour] from CinemAfrica for that, she was a tremendous help. She saw my potential and gave me the belief that I could be a part of this. There’s been a lot of quick learning curves. It’s been surreal to see people come in. There have been a few events where I’ve been sitting up in the back row and thinking ‘Holy shit, I’ve brought these people here’. I’ve created some small bit of history. And as film festival season started I got more bookings and it started me off pretty well. I’ve also got to thank my associates Bengt-Anton Runsten and Jens Harvard, who’ve helped me out with the media and tech side of the space.
Where then have you gotten the material to build the space? As you’ve mentioned the seats come from an old military base?
It’s an interesting dynamic, I think something I’ve noticed in Sweden as a foreigner is that there’s a pressure to present things as done with a certain wholeness and completeness. I feel there’s a certain sense of “ok, but when are you going to have this finished?”. For me, I’ve always been very open that it’s a work in progress. And I’m learning so much from every small event, you know ‘oh crap, I need to fix this’.
I guess the structure you’re going for is pretty practical? The structure does its job, it doesn’t necessarily need to be polished?
Yes, I guess that comes from a New York, which I’m pretty inspired by. My brother has a gallery out there, and it’s a pretty similar concept. It’s about what’s happening in the space, rather than what the space looks like. So as long as there are chairs, and decent equipment to watch it films on, those are the most important things. Even if we look a little shabby, the equipment is up to par with most cinemas. I think it’s also fun to bend the audience’s eye to the things that actually matter. To get the stuff, there’s been a lot of Blocket hunting, and a lot of funny little mistakes, sometimes buying the wrong door on impulse that doesn’t fit in the end.
What should a cinema be in 2019, in an era when even Scorsese is on Netflix?
Most modern filmmakers in Hollywood now understand that people are watching these things on their screens, on their phones or laptops. So the cinema experience is becoming an auxiliary method. I think there are so many ways you can make a cinema work. Some people want to go the classic route, like 35mm film and a projection room, and I really respect that, but we’re not that. Getting people into cinemas now, I think small is the way to go, cosy, comfortable, reminding people of what it’s like to be at home. I used to like in Oakland, and one of the most famous theatres out there is the New Parkway Theater. It’s literally a large space with multiple rooms, one of them is a bunch of couches and rollie chairs and tables, and you can drink beer and eat a nice meal there. It brings a huge charm to it, and people want to watch a film there at the New Parkway, it’s like a bigger home experience. I think that’s the idea I’m trying to go for here, a bigger home experience. It’s comfortable, and you can relax and really laugh.
And I guess create a contrast and a difference between watching at home, and watching at say one of the mega cinemas?
Yes, and I like both of those, but there’s no stepping stone between them. I know I lot of my clients come here because they want a movie experience, but they’re fearful of these huge amounts of seats and large prices. They want somewhere to get things off the ground. Say someone has a short film, and they need somewhere to edit and screen it, and screen it for their friends and family, that’s actually a possibility here, on a working-class budget. That’s a demographic that isn’t focused on so much, that I’m really hitting on.
And I guess you have to focus on the small details, like what you’re selling when it comes to food? It’s those small touches that make it a cosy cinema?
Yes, and I guess it’s almost about deconstructing what really needs to be there, and what can be left out.
Going forward, how do you want to develop the whole space and concept? You spoke about having some studio rooms in the back for people working in film?
I want to have it not only as a cinema space. Cinema is often just a night-time event, and I’d like to fill the schedule for the space with more bookings involving production. So in the back we’ve got a top-notch editing suite, we’re looking at making a music suite as well, a place where maybe young independent filmmaker in Stockholm can work on their film until it’s ready to go. I’d like to push that more. We’re also looking at talking to distributors and maybe get a license to show mainstream films here, but I want that to be only one part of the experience. I also want to create a space where working filmmakers can operate. A classic film schedule, but there’s also a back room where you can edit, talk to a client, get some work done, whatever. Whatever you need to do to get a film made.
And are you looking at having a more regular schedule next year?
It’s one of the many spinning plates I’m trying to get working. We’re working on getting licensing, and it takes time. In the meantime, we’ve been relying a lot on independent films and our clients having the rights to films, but hopefully by the end of next year we’re looking at having a tight schedule of films.
And you also do more unorthodox events, like your Tetris evenings?
Yes, that’s coming back after the holidays, we’re also looking to have some theatre events, we’re getting into spotlights, and maybe even some comedy nights. We’ve had some small Tiny Desk style concerts, and I don’t see why we can’t have people onstage, showing, playing, discussing and making you laugh.
Bio Valentino, Wollmar Yxkullsgatan 9, www.facebook.com/biovalentino