MOSCOW: Scattered throughout the city’s outlying neighbourhoods, Moscow’s Soviet-era cinemas have for decades served as the centre of communities.
With names like “Mars” and “The Diamond”, the cinemas were mostly built in the 1960s and 70s during a Soviet film boom and were popular even after the collapse of the USSR, offering cheaper tickets than their counterparts in shopping centres.
Now – as part of a wider plan changing the face of the Russian capital – almost 40 of them are being turned into modern glass complexes.
Developers say the project will brighten up dreary suburbs and bring more life to dormant residential districts.
But it has faced a backlash from activists and residents, who say it will deprive locals of community focal points and destroy important architectural heritage.
The plan is part of a major city redevelopment programme led by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin that has included the construction of a multi-billion-dollar park and the demolition of Soviet-era pre-fab apartments.
Real estate company ADG Group bought 39 Soviet-built cinemas from the government and plans to turn them into what it calls “neighbourhood centres”.
Grigory Pechersky, ADG Group’s founder and co-director, said the majority of the cinemas were in “extremely poor” condition when his company bought them in 2014.
“Around half of them were closed since the 1990s,” he told AFP in the group’s central Moscow office.
Pechersky said the project aims to “recreate the historical function of the cinemas, which is for residents to spend their free time comfortably.”
Moscow’s infrastructure in residential areas is limited, he said, and Muscovites tend to travel to the huge city’s centre for quality entertainment and shopping.
“Those areas are very densely populated but in many cases there is nothing there,” he said, adding that around 10 million people live between Moscow’s two main beltways where the cinemas are located.
All but three of the cinemas will be completely torn down and rebuilt.
One of those surviving is the 1938 Rodina (Motherland) cinema, a Stalinist landmark in northeastern Moscow with huge pillars and Soviet mosaics, where ADG Group plans to reopen the building’s original rooftop terrace.
The rest of the cinemas were built in the brutalist style – a utilitarian form of architecture popular in the Soviet Union in the second half of the 20th century.
Built in the shape of simple squares, some are on local high streets such as Almaz (The Diamond), a 1964 cinema painted turquoise in southern Moscow’s leafy Shabolovka district.
Others – like the Angara, which is named after a Siberian river and already under reconstruction — are surrounded by typical late-Soviet housing blocks.
According to ADG Group, they have “little architectural value”.
The company hired the British architectural firm run by Amanda Levete – who has worked on London’s V&A Museum and Lisbon’s MAAT contemporary art centre — to design a concept for the new cinemas.
The group’s main architect Alexei Belyakov said the cinemas will be reconstructed in a similar style, to form a recognisable “network” across the far-flung districts.
In drawings seen by AFP, they will all have a glass front and will be considerably larger, to make room for retail space and cafes.
All they will retain is the logos of their original names – taken from cities and rivers of the Soviet Union, planets, mountains and precious stones.
Belyakov said that while the cinemas “were built in the spirit of the time, they are not practical anymore.”
But many Moscow architects disagree.
Ruben Arakelyan, who runs a Moscow-based architectural bureau, said that while it’s “right” to revive the cinemas, the brutalist buildings could have been preserved.
He said some of the cinemas began “dying out” when people increasingly started to travel to the city centre for work after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Local activists worry the cinemas will be turned into regular shopping malls — of which Moscow already has an abundance.
“They tell us that these are depressing places that need to be torn down,” said Klim Likhachev, the head of a residents’ group to save the Almaz cinema.
“But this is our favourite cinema. Nobody asked the residents,” Likhachev said. “By reconstruction they actually mean demolition. They are calling it a ‘neighbourhood centre’, but it will in fact be another banal shopping centre.”
Activist Pyotr Ivanov said the problem with the plan was that it assumed each neighbourhood where the cinemas are based had the same needs.
“All of them are different. You could only make universal decisions like that in a command economy like the Soviet Union,” he said.
Two Metro stations away from Almaz, residents have also been fighting to preserve the Ulaanbaatar, named after the capital of once Soviet-friendly Mongolia.
Another of the movie theatres, the Baku Cinema in northwestern Moscow, has served as a community centre for the Azerbaijani diaspora since the Soviet era.
ADG Group’s Belyakov brushed aside criticism, saying it was important for the Russian capital to look to the future.
“Moscow is moving forward,” he said.
Rio to test facial-recognition cameras during Carnival
RIO DE JANEIRO: Rio de Janeiro plans to test a facial-recognition system during its famed Carnival as part of the city’s campaign to fight crime, the head of the regional police force said.
Rogerio Figueiredo, the new head of Rio de Janeiro’s state police, said in an interview published Monday by the O Globo newspaper that cameras deployed with the technology will scan both faces and car license plates.
It will be operational in Rio’s tourist hotspot of Copacabana in the beginning of March, when this year’s Carnival takes place.
“If (the cameras) identify an individual under an arrest warrant, or if a stolen vehicle drives through the area, an alert will be sent to the closest police car,” Figueiredo explained.
“It’s a fantastic tool. It’s time that the police modernize.”
Rio, which hosted the 2016 Olympic Games, has long suffered from street crime, with exchanges of gunfire common between drug-dealing gangs and police.
Last year’s Carnival was marred by numerous crimes in tourist areas, especially close to the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
Television images showed groups of youths carrying out mass robberies by running into crowds and taking possessions by force.
Shortly after that Carnival, former president Michel Temer signed a decree controversially putting Rio’s security forces under military control until the end of the year.
With new anti-crime president Jair Bolsonaro installed January 1 and ally Wilson Witzel taking over as Rio’s governor, local authorities are poised to take a hard line on crime.
Witzel, for instance, has evoked using police snipers to kill armed suspects, even if they are not directly threatening anyone with their weapon.
Reports say the governor is also looking to acquire Israeli surveillance drones that are capable of firing on suspected drug gang members.
CIA agent Tony Mendez, hero of film “Argo,” dead at 78
WASHINGTON: Former CIA agent Tony Mendez, who engineered a creative way to smuggle US hostages out of Iran in 1980 and was immortalized in the Hollywood film “Argo,” died of complications from Parkinson’s Disease, his family said. He was 78.
Mendez, who will have a private burial in Nevada, died on Saturday, his literary agent Christy Fletcher said via Twitter, relaying a family statement.
“The last thing he and his wife Jonna Mendez did was get their new book to the publisher and he died feeling he had completed writing the stories that he wanted to be told,” the family statement read.
It added that Mendez had been suffering from Parkinson’s for the past 10 years.
Vocalist Mehnaz remembered
ISLAMABAD: Sixth death anniversary of the renowned and legendary singer was observed today.
Mehnaz Begum, the distinguished singer of Pakistan, had died on 19th January 2013 at the age of 55. She was on way to the United States when her condition deteriorated in Bahrain where she breathed her last at a hospital.
The master of classical genres like ‘ghazal’, ‘thumri’ and ‘dadra’ was born in 1958. Mehnaz began her career as a playback singer in the early ’70s. Her mellifluous voice and control over the sur instantly made her popular among music composers and film audiences. She sang for a number of films a majority of which became popular.
The talented singer sang many hit and evergreen chartbusters like Mujhe Dil Se Na Bhulana from film ‘Aina’, Kyun Roi Shehnai from ‘Haider Ali’ and Do Piyase Dil Ek Huay from ‘Bandish’.
Surrayya Bhopali was among the first films that Mehnaz sang for and Zeba Bakhtiar’s Babu was her last film as a playback singer.