Administrative and command methods in the Soviet Union managed everything, including film distribution. Everything was centrally managed by a Cinematography Department, plans were made in advance and films were distributed. When the system fell into disrepair, desolation befell all spheres, including the cinema. "In the 1990s, cinemas began to close, some turned into furniture salons, but "Arman" avoided this fate," says Mayra Kubaniyazova, the last Soviet Director and current Cinema Administrator.
Films ceased to arrive "from above", there was no local film market, but there were private entrepreneurs who organized film representation. "Then we took films from "private owners", and a few years later there were large companies, rights holders," she says.
"Summer 1997, classmates and I were going to the cinema," recalls Svetlana Romashkina, Editor-in-Chief of the Vlast website. "The old system of film distribution has long collapsed, but copies of films occasionally make their way to the screens by some miracle. We watched in "Arman" an American comedy about schoolchildren from the opposite side of the earth. Touching through the screen to these freer and more open peers seemed awesome. "We will never be exactly like that, – we lamented, walking along Abay Avenue after the film."
The reason a film in cinemas became a rarity was simple. "We didn't have the money to buy films, and a cinema without films is a rental space," says Mayra. Various events began to be held at "Arman", and one of the first prototypes of the current night clubs, the "Fakir" disco, worked on weekends.
In 1999, the cinema was closed for renovation, to be opened in May 2000 in a new guise. The entrance group was added to the main facade, the interiors changed, but the most significant change was a disappearance of the courtyard with a winter garden. "According to the architect Alexandr Korzhempo, creating this space, he wanted people to protect themselves from the noisy city before meeting with the cinema and be alone with themselves," says Svetlana about her meeting with the author of the cinema project. "I remember, before the film, my mother and I were sitting behind the glass - it seems to be inside the cinema, and outside at the same time. The flowers and water were nearby, and the sky was above," she continues with a childhood memory.
After the renovation, "Arman" became known as the cinema center, but the disco in the atrium, which turned out after covering the courtyard with a roof, remained. The halls were preserved, but the rest of the space was focused on nightclub, which had new equipment that allowed concerts to be held almost at the level of the Palace of the Republic. "It helped us stay afloat. For a few years we existed thanks to disco, but then cinema prevailed," says Mayra.
Fragment of the sign
The cinema is still here, in two halls – Blue and Red, but its spirit is mixed with disco rhythms
According to her, the workers were worried about the reconstruction, but everyone understood that in this way a new space is added that can be used, which means that there will be more chances to save the cinema. "It was a pity to lose something, but time dictated something else. Every square meter had to bring money", she says.
"When I saw "Arman" after the reconstruction, it was a nightclub, and I came there to the concert of the Diskoteka Avariya band", Svetlana recalls. "Terminator was on a motorcycle in the lobby, and a huge foam gorilla and velour sofas - on the second floor. The summer courtyard was gone. There was a scene in its place, which is closed from above by a glass pyramid. The cinema is still here, in two halls – Blue and Red, but its spirit is mixed with disco rhythms. None of us understand that something wrong has happened. "Arman" began to correspond to the aesthetics of the 2000s, it is now "modern". Then I came here more often to parties and concerts, and not to watch films according to the purchased ticket."
It was a pity to lose something, but time dictated something else. Every square meter had to bring money
— Mayra Kubaniyazova, Cinema Administrator
Art Director Bopesh Zhandayev also compares reconstruction of the cinema with people of that time. "When the club appeared there, it became such new-rich kitsch from the nineties. They put a raspberry-colored blazer on Arman, hung a gold chain; it became ugly, but it put up with everything and survived this period stoically. It still has a lot of internal potential."
The nightclub didn't catch on. Maybe the spirit of cinema was stronger? Disco, Terminator, and gorilla disappeared, and even a tumor of the attached entrance group. The former "Arman" endured the ordeal of alucobond post-modernism and broke through to us with archival photographs and personal memories, newly discovered bas-reliefs and documentary film, on which we saw how special this first modernist building in Almaty was.