From Apolo to Arena: Cinema of Novi Sad

Novi Sad is a cinema city. When it comes to film screenings, Novi Sad has kept up with the world – from playing the first movie by the end of the 19th century, to travelling cinemas due to a lack of real auditoriums, to contemporary cinemas that were among the most modern ones in Europe. Today, you can choose where to watch a film.

Paradoxically, Novi Sad was left with no cinema in the first decade of the new millennium, but they are back, and it seems that the citizens of Novi Sad are as excited as ever about it. There were more cinemas in the past than there are now, so in addition to the ones in the city centre, citizens of Novi Sad could watch the films in auditoriums across Petrovaradin, Telep or Detelinara. The ticket price was not affordable for everyone. Despite that, all generations went to screenings.

Having suffered historical, i.e. social changes, the Novi Sad cinema has an enviable tradition, while the citizens of Novi Sad rightfully defend the epithet of film buffs. After the Second World War, people would often visit cinemas in order to watch a French, English or a local movie. Soon after, the first actress will take off her clothes in a lake in a Swedish movie called One Summer of Happiness, and the first ticket touts in Novi Sad will start to appear. The cinema life in Novi Sad was blooming.

Today, in addition to the world hit films in megalomaniac auditoriums, people can watch indie films in places like the Svilara Cultural Station, CK13, Dom b612, LAB and other. Here are some of the important years that speak in favour of film being an escape, an entertainment and a need to the people of Novi Sad.


In less than a year after the world premiere screening in Paris, citizens of Novi Sad watched their first film in the Dunđerski Theatre. The theatre was situated in the backyard of the hotel Vojvodina, while the newspaper Branik said it was the first artificial play for the fellow citizens.


The Tivoli hall was opened on the field next to today’s Museum of Vojvodina, a place where plays were performed and movies were screened. With a capacity of around 200 to 300 viewers, Tivoli gathered fans of adventurous films and burlesque, accompanied by tamburitza players or accordionists. In 1912, Tivoli played Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. It was the first feature film shown here and the ticket price was 20 krajcars. Having in mind that, say, one kilogram of meat was 12 krajcars, screenings weren’t cheap and cinema wasn’t available to everyone. Despite that, Tivoli used to gather mostly students and soldiers and the atmosphere was so relaxed that it was no surprise commenting on films and plays aloud was a thing. Since the Tivoli hall had different purposes, it is not considered our first permanent cinema.


In 1910, the first permanent cinema in Novi Sad was built – Apolo, today’s shopping mall of the same name in Liberty Square. The cinema was built according to a design by a Budapest architect, while the ownership belonged to Apolo projectograph, a joint-stock company managed by Stevan Adamović, the former mayor of Novi Sad. Apolo was visited by a more fancy and educated audience than the one in Tivoli. Adamović even wanted to make a movie about Novi Sad in order to attract more people. His idea was to cast real Novi Sad citizens. However, corso was so crowded in the time arranged for shooting, the filmmakers couldn’t do their job, so they had to relocate the shooting of the film. The Apolo movies were obtained from Budapest and were accompanied with martial music. Soon after the first sound films started to appear in the world, Apolo was ready to take this new motion picture by storm. Thus, in 1930, The Singing Fool with Al Johnson in the leading role was screened. As a precursor of the popular lovebox seats in cinemas nowadays, Apolo also had seats for lovers, separated by a curtain, as well as those for families. During the Second World War, the cinema was renamed Nemezeti. After the liberation, Apolo got its original name back.


The second permanent cinema was Korzo, 4 Zmaj Jovina Street, in the backyard of what is today known as Gusan, one of the favourite pubs for the citizens of Novi Sad. Detektiv kao lopov from 1916, by the author Vladimir Totović, had its premiere screening in Korzo. The very building was designed by Anton Tickmayer in 1901, for the purposes of a photography atelier.


The Odeon cinema was built according to August Najar’s project in the backyard of Vojvođanska bank, the former Grand Hotel Majer. In the period after the war, Odeon was first renamed Slavica, based on the first local film, and then, in 1953, Bioskop Doma JNA, which was known for playing war and action films.


In the thirties, the cinemas Uranija (corner of the Gallery Square and Vase Stajića Street), Reks or the future Narodni bioskop (the Tanurdžić Palace) as well as Luksor were formed and opened in Jovana Subotića Street.


The Palas cinema, or what was going to be known as Jadran in the future, was founded in Poštanska Street. The most viewed movies of this time were the ones with Charlie Chaplin in the leading role, while the citizens of Novi Sad gladly watched Sherlock Holmes played by John Barrymore. The most popular romantic movies were the ones with Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro and Marlene Dietrich.


The Youth Forum was formed in 1954 and it played an important role in the cinema life of Novi Sad, first as a summer stage in Katolička porta and then as the Cultural Centre of Novi Sad, with an auditorium that plays indie films. Želimir Žilnik, the famous film director and winner of the Golden Bear, was the manager of the Youth Forum in the period from 1961 to 1973.


In 1969, Novi Sad got one of the most beautiful and modern cinemas in Europe – Arena. Its seating capacity was around 700. Vasa Dimić, who was a managing director of Radio Novi Sad for a very long time, was in charge of the cinema’s acoustics. Swan Lake was Arena’s first screening. Arena had a lot of visitors, given the population back then. One year, it had as many as 200,000 visitors. Sometimes, the attendance depended on the type of movies screened; thus, Narodni bioskop gathered those who wanted to see Bruce Lee, showing films even 10 times a day, while Arena played films three times a day. Jadran was most visited in the time of screening Mr. Bean movies, with 2000 people and 7 screenings per day. At that time, Arena used to play The Lost World by Spielberg once a day.


In 1977, the Zvezda film Novi Sad was formed. It was a social labour organisation and a chinematographic company for import, creation and distribution of films. Apolo became Zvezda, while the company included other cinemas as well – Narodni bioskop in the Tanurdžić Palace, Jadran, Arena, Letnji bioskop in Katolička porta, Stražilovo in Sremski Karlovci, Dunav in Petrovaradin, Narodni in Futog, Slovan in Kisač, but the building of the Novi Sad Theatre in Jovana Subotića as well. Some of the most popular films in Zvezda were Lude godine, Pjevam danju, pjevam noću, Došlo doba da se ljubav proba, Majstori, majstori, Ljubi, ljubi, al’ glavu ne gubi, Špijun na štiklama and other.


Apolo was demolished and Reks became a business premise, Odeon became a warehouse of Vojvođanska Banka, while Dunav and Bačka were closed due to poor attendance.


During the NATO aggression in 1999, cinemas used to work every day thanks to the Centar film that provided people with local films. On 24 March, the first day of the bombing, cinemas were crowded with people: Nož i Maćeha was projected in Arena, while Jadran played Shakespeare in Love.


Arena and Jadran stopped working in 2008. The last movie Arena played was Quantum of Solace from the James Bond series. After that, Novi Sad had no cinemas for some time.


In 2010, Arena was renovated and it got six modern auditoriums. In addition to this new-old Arena, Novi Sad got two more cinemas – Cinestar cinemas in the Big shopping mall (2015) and Cineplexx in the Promenada shopping mall (2018

Author: Leona Pap

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