New programming at the Elvire Popesco Cinema – Hosting festivals, newly released films and fresh initiatives

15 November, 2022

On 1st of September, Ioana Florescu became the new manager of the Elvire Popesco Cinema run by the French Institute in Bucharest, the most popular single-screen movie theater in Romania. Born in March 1992 in Bucharest, Ioana Florescu studied Filmology at the University of Vienna. After returning to Romania in 2017, she collaborated with several film festivals, and in 2019 she joined the French Institute as an intern, where she got hired shortly after. This year, before taking over the Elvire Popesco Cinema, she was responsible, together with her colleague Victor Benderra, for the selection of the French Film Festival in Romania.


She says that taking over as the programmer of this legendary cinema in Bucharest is a great advantage because Elvire Popesco already has a large audience of its own. At the same time, she aims to diversify the programming in order to gain a new audience, without losing its old one.

“I may have some wild impulses every now and then – for example, to schedule The Exit of the Trains (2020, documentary, dir. Radu Jude and Adrian Cioflânca), which I think is a very important film, four evenings in a row. But I try to find a balance between creating a program for the general public and other initiatives that I might have,” explains Ioana Florescu.

“It’s a challenge to keep the audience and, at the same time, to carry out my wish to diversify the program more, to make room for retrospectives, double feature screenings, B-movie marathons, whatever I think would be interesting,” she adds.

She knows that as a programmer she should primarily take into account the author films that are distributed in Romania: “It’s one of my aims. There are only a few cinemas, so we have to show the films that are brought here”. She is also aware that bringing productions outside the local distribution offer depends on the budget she has available because these titles cost money, as well as their subtitling and promotion. “It’s difficult to provide space for such initiatives. We usually condense them in the French Film Festival, which is very important to us, but we wish to have them throughout the entire year,” she elaborates.

Ioana Florescu explains that with the small number of arthouse cinemas in Bucharest and the large number of festivals, Elvire Popesco is extremely in demand, so there are not many openings in the program for such initiatives and, often, not even for the newly released films.

“Usually, festivals bring titles that wouldn’t reach the public otherwise. However, the schedule gets very crowded, and the festivals end up being less visible, given that they are so many and consecutive,” she says.

“I want to find a balance between hosting festivals and the normal programming, which includes locally distributed films and other events or initiatives. For example, the children’s program. I would like us to develop it more than what we do now, which is screening children’s films on weekend mornings – either have our own program or find an association that has experience in the matter. We need to reach schools, the youth, including those from disadvantaged areas, and bring them to the cinema,” she adds.

French films receive special attention, which is only natural given that the theater is run by the French Institute. Therefore, when the programming allows it, Elvire Popesco organizes thematic events such as tributes to French directors or actors, as they did on the passing of Jean-Paul Belmondo, or double features, as was the Les Yeux sans visage (1960, dir. Georges Franju) / La Planète sauvage (1973, animation, dir. René Laloux) double bill.

“I believe they enrich the program. We have an average attendance at such events. If we could find a specific slot for classic films, I think it would do better because it would be a constant in the program,” she states.

European films, and thus Romanian titles, are the focus of the Elvire Popesco Cinema: “As a member of the Europa Cinemas network, a big part of the program is dedicated to European films. We look at the local distribution offer, see what we like and choose the titles to include in our program. We strongly support Romanian cinema. We always try to host previews in the presence of the teams, we want to give the audience the opportunity to also meet the filmmakers. We even pay attention to the big-budget productions brought by global distributors, and if something catches our eye, we try to bring it to our theater as well. A movie that I liked, but saw too late, unfortunately, was Halloween Ends (horror, dir. David Gordon Green). Had I caught it earlier, I would have included it in our program,” explains Ioana Florescu.

Even if some Romanian films, despite their presence in festivals, do not attract a large audience, they are given priority at Elvire Popesco. “We run them for several weeks until the theater is almost empty. We try to find openings for them in the schedule so that people have a chance to see them. It’s not sustainable in the long term, but we promote Romanian cinema as much as we can,” she says.

According to Ioana Florescu, Elvire Popesco has a very diverse audience, given that each festival attracts its very own fans. “What I really like is that we have, like any reputable independent cinema, a number of regulars. That’s the mark of a successful movie theater, in my opinion. At the same time, I would like to see more students attending the screenings. We don’t seem to be very popular with this demographic, although they benefit from discounted tickets. I’m even thinking that we could organize a campaign among students, invite them to come to the cinema,” she elaborates.

Regarding the technical equipment, Ioana Florescu says that the theater operates within the right parameters and that it was last revised at the beginning of November by a French company: “We always have a projector lamp as a backup. When we change it, we already order a new one to have as a backup. It’s a financial effort, but it’s important to be able to replace it quickly when something breaks.”

In relation to the situation of art cinemas in Bucharest, Ioana Florescu says that she had a “great shock” when she returned to Romania in 2017 after living for several years in Vienna. “I used to go to the cinema all the time with my mother as a child, we would go at least three times a week. We knew all the theaters in Bucharest. I left Romania in 2011 and returned in 2017 when almost all of them had been closed. So I wanted to do something about it, get involved somehow. In 2019, I saw an ad for an internship at Elvire Popesco and applied,” confesses Ioana Florescu.

During high school up to the point she left to study in Vienna, she worked as a volunteer at several festivals in Bucharest, such as BIEFF (i.e. Bucharest International Experimental Film Festival), with which she continued to collaborate after she returned to Romania.

She went to the German college Goethe in Bucharest. Since she was a passionate moviegoer but not so much into filmmaking, she thought that she would like to study Filmology: “I attended the training classes at the UNATC when I was in high school, but in the end, I decided to go to Vienna. It’s a state university and I had the German baccalaureate, so the fee was only 19 euros per semester, and you could easily get a student job to pay your rent.”

“There, I could study what I wanted, filmology. At the UNATC, the curriculum also included screenwriting and I wasn’t interested in that. From early on, I liked the programming area and working with the archive, but never the practical side. Besides filmology, I also had theater and media studies; it was just theory and analysis. After you go through all the basics, you can choose to focus on only one of the subject areas, so I took film classes. The program is very flexible, it allows you to work if you also want that. You have a lot of freedom in your choices,” she explains.

“I was watching movies either at home, on TV, or at the cinema. Me and my mom had this ritual on weekends: we would go to the 12pm movie, then we would eat at a fast food place and go shopping afterwards,” expands Ioana Florescu on her passion for cinema.

She knew she wanted to study filmology but never thought about what she could really do with it in Romania: “I never asked myself: What kind of job could I have after I finish my studies? Which got me worried at one point during college. But I took everything that came my way. I went to every internship and every film criticism workshop at festivals. I started writing for movie blogs. After I returned to Romania, I did an internship at BIEFF, from 2017 until last year. I also worked at the Astra Festival in Sibiu for about two years, where I was in charge of the shortlist, catalog and Q&As. I also did an internship at the NexT Festival, where I wrote some texts for the catalog, but unfortunately, it was the last edition.”

“I loved my time in Vienna, it’s a great place for cinephiles. It has many independent movie theaters, including two cinematheques, with exceptionally curated programs and a special focus on experimental film, thanks to Peter Kubelka (i.e. Austrian filmmaker and curator), who was in the same circle as Stan Brakhage and the other New York experimental filmmakers. I was a regular at the cinema. That’s exactly why it was such a big shock when I returned to Bucharest and found out that almost all the theaters had been closed,” recalls Ioana Florescu.

She says she never thought about settling in Vienna permanently: “I always wanted to come back. I find it much more satisfying to succeed in doing something in Romania, where it is more difficult. In Vienna, it’s quite simple. If they want to organize an event, they find the financing, the place, and the people to do it. And everyone is happy with the result. Here, if you want to do something, you don’t know if you will get funding, if you have a place where to organize the screenings, or if you will achieve everything you set out for. In the end, it’s a huge success, a triumph, an incredible satisfaction.”

Although managing the Elvire Popesco Cinema involves a lot of administrative work – emails, reports, contracts, payments, documents –, it brings her great satisfaction. “I was a bit afraid about it. This was the first time I understood how important each thing I do is. It’s a kind of satisfaction I never expected to have. I’ve learned that doing these things is what makes it possible for the theater to have a program every evening. Before, I was running in much more abstract areas. Settling down and doing this kind of work at the beginning helped me a lot. The freedom I started to have at some point came as a bonus. It’s more important to first learn how to keep the cinema open and functional, and after that, you can focus on the vision,” she explains.

A vision that she does not shy away from sharing: “It would be great if there were more theaters to host the festivals. Since there are only a few of them, Elvire Popesco’s schedule is packed. It would be nice to have a balance between hosting festivals and a greater involvement on our part in the collaboration with each festival. We should help each other more, especially since the French Institute can offer support in some cases, when there are French productions in their programmes. Then, there need to be enough available slots for the newly released films and our own programs. As I said before, I think that the children’s program could be more diverse. The role of art cinemas is also to shape the audience of tomorrow. We should find a solution as soon as possible in this sense because if they don’t have contact with this type of theater at an early age, it will seem alien to them later. I would also like Elvire Popesco to become a cooperation platform that mobilizes French and Romanian establishments to develop new collaborations in terms of production and mobility of film professionals, besides éducation à l’image projects and other initiatives. After all, we must not forget that the cinema – as Julien Chiappone-Lucchesi, the director of the French Institute in Romania, and Loïc Meuley, the cultural attaché, believe – is part of France’s cooperation program in Romania, which includes cultural, academic, scientific and educational collaborative projects. That is the balance I would like us to find for Elvire Popesco, with a focus on art film and French cinema, of course.”

Journalist and film critic. Curator for some film festivals in Romania. At "Films in Frame" publishes interviews with both young and established filmmakers.