The project Praga Women’s Evenings was a private, commercial initiative developed on the basis of cooperation of the arts cinema ‘Praha’ with the non-profit foundation ‘Generator’, the latter’s activities focussing on ‘cinema therapy’ – a form of therapy and education that uses motion pictures as a main tool. Praha cinema offers an ambitious film and artistic repertoire including movies and live-stream broadcasts. The cinema has become a recognised local cultural centre, attracting visitors from all parts of Warsaw and contributes to the creation of a new and more positive image of the district of Praga Północ.
The concept of the ‘PWK’ project, targeted at women, implied a combination of commercial initiatives and the fulfilling of social objectives, fostering local social cohesion. The tools used in the project aimed at providing support to women in solving problems related to their particular societal role. According to the Promotion Manager of the cinema Praha and the Internal Coordinator of the project:
“Women were identified not only as customers but also as a social group especially endangered by a cultural conflict related to the difficulty of reconciling the roles which they are expected to take up and play in the society, especially in the family and at work.”
Praga Women’s Evenings was a group-based project targeted at young, up to middle-aged females (18-40 years old). The offer, which included six sessions (April-October 2013) attracted a relatively wide audience of visitors from Praga Północ and, gradually, also from other districts of Warsaw. The Project Coordinator argues that “the age of participants turned out to be diverse, also with the participation of women older than assumed in the design concept.”
A typical event consisted of a lecture introducing the topic of the meeting, film presentations and a panel discussion with invited experts. The lectures preceding the movie presentation concerned problems dealt with in the film. The concept behind the panel discussion conducted after the film was to share experiences and ideas, and to confront them with the knowledge of experts who moderated the discussion. As the Project Coordinator claims:
“The initiative was not limited to entertainment but rather entertainment was an excuse for a deep substantive discussion on important topics.”
The experts were selected according to the questions touched upon in the film. The selection of movies was subordinated to the concepts of cinema-therapy. In the case of the ‘PWK’ project this concerned the presentation of movies which promoted the image of self-confident, independent and successful women in confrontation with difficulties of everyday life. The movies considered specific societal problems concerning women which included discrimination in the workplace and the dilemma of splitting obligations between family life and professional career. After the movie presentations the participants were offered small gifts: promotional products or services sponsored by locally-based firms.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The initiative explicitly addressed socio-demographic diversity, as it was targeted at young and middle-aged women and referred to specific societal problems of the group. The actual age composition of the participants covered a wider than planned age span. The dimension of diversity conceptualised in the project was the conflict of different societal positions and roles women are expected to take up and play in the society. In this sense, the project indirectly sought to tackle selected negative, as well as positive aspects of temporary social and economic change, the position of women on the labour market related to their social networks, lifestyle and interests (compare: Stoloff et al., 1999). The project aimed at raising the self-confidence of women, their social awareness and openness to questions often treated as difficult or taboo.
The focus of activity of the arts cinema on specific socio-demographic categories – women in general, women with small children, and elderly people, identifies these groups as the most needy with respect to attention and intervention. The ‘PWK’ initiative, as well other projects undertaken by Kino Praha are an attempt at integrating and activating these social groups, also considering the societal and physical environment – Praga Północ district. The project ‘PWK’, although a commercial initiative, should be considered as a very important step in the process of formation and fostering of local communities, providing alternative means of entertainment and education.
Main factors influencing success or failure
As the Project Coordinator claims:
“its main success were lively discussions and the active engagement of the participants. The idea was to offer women something more than the movie itself. An obvious success were interesting and inspiring discussions and great interest of the audience. The cinema still receives phone calls with questions about further events for women or the continuation of the PWE project.”
The events were attended by ca. 80-90 persons each, who represented diverse age groups and family status, which stimulated interesting inter-generational discussions. The most important factors of success were:
– the strong commitment of the project manager;
– the cooperation with the non-profit foundation “Generator” which was responsible for implementing the method of ‘cinema therapy’ and the moderation of panel discussions.
In spite of the above success factors and of achieving the social objectives, the project did not generate profits. The arts cinema carried costs of ca. € 1200 per event, not including the maintenance costs of the infrastructure. The ticket sales did not cover all the costs. Although the programme involved specialist discussions and consultations with psychologists, psychotherapists and sexologists, the price of the tickets was not much higher than in the case of conventional movie projections, i.e. ca. € 7 per ticket. The management of the cinema undertook various attempts to solve the problem by reducing the price of tickets, waiving any additional contests and free gifts. The project has however continued to bring losses and was therefore suspended.
The inclusion of a wide-range programme of movie projections, moderated discussions and workshops targeted at the support of specific social groups was an innovative element of the Praha arts cinema project. In other arts cinemas in Warsaw the presentation of films is often accompanied by discussions, however, neither the choice of the motion pictures, nor the events which accompany them are targeted at solving societal problems related to diversity.
The positive evaluation, as expressed by the project coordinator, as well as the relatively large number of participants may be indicative of a relatively large potential in terms of supporting local social cohesion. However, the continuation of the project would have required support of local entrepreneurs as sponsors or co-financing by local authorities. The latter has found some reflection in further projects carried out by Praha cinema, which not only continues cooperation with the foundation ‘Generator’ but has found support of educational centres, foundations and public institutional programmes. The cooperation with the local authorities in the frame of the programmes: ‘Summer/Winter in the City’, which organises activities for children during the holidays or the network of ‘Universities of the 3rd Age’, which engages elderly, retired people finds reflection in the organisation of new projects by Kino Praha, focused on elderly people and children.