Movie theaters, where you’re sitting right next to strangers and sharing the same air for several hours, will likely be one of the last social experiences to return after we emerge from lockdowns. And, while Netflix Party viewings were a fun novelty for a while, a German architect felt that online streaming didn’t come close to replicating the communal aspect of watching a film as a group.
So, in February, Olaf Karkhoff launched Window Flicks, a venture that allows films to be projected onto residential building exteriors in Berlin for nearby dwellers to view from their apartments. They can crack open a window in the living room or kitchen, or sit out on the balcony with a glass of wine while taking in a summer breeze, to get a good view of the “screen,” all while practicing safe social distancing.
“We were thinking about what we could do so that people could stay at home and be very rational about this crisis,” Karkhoff says, “but also not to be isolated, but to be in the community.”
Anyone in Berlin can apply to have their community participate, as long as they live in an area where at least 20 residential units can have an unobstructed view of a large wall. The projector, and stereo equipment, can then be fitted in one of the apartments to open out through a window. And it’s all complemented by salty kernels made by independent snack maker Knalle Popcorn, which Karkhoff’s team distributes during each showing.
Karkhoff hasn’t gone to the trouble of asking permission from the city or residents—because so far, he says, there have been no issues. They’ve taken place in various neighborhoods around Berlin, including the upscale suburb of Charlottenburg. “There are no complaints,” Karkhoff says. “People are really happy about it, because it’s really an experience to see a movie on a 30-to-50-meter-high wall.”
There are currently seven movies to choose from, including German classic Wings of Desire, by renowned director Wim Wenders, who’s recorded a message in support of the project; there’s the German comedy Goodbye Lenin; a Polish biopic about van Gogh, Loving Vincent; and French Oscar winner The Artist. The list is expected to continue to grow, as distributors have agreed to provide their films for free.
The movies (and popcorn) are free for residents, but they’re encouraged to make donations, which all go toward the German cinema industry. The fundraiser, called Fortsetzung Folgt (To Be Continued), supports 78 small, independent screens all over Berlin. It’s currently reached €133,000 of its goal of €730,000.
The project is just one of many reinventions of the cinematic experience happening around the world in response to the pandemic: London’s Luna Cinema, for instance, is launching pop-up drive-in movie theaters in locations around the city. And Karkhoff has also received inquiries from Munich, Brussels, and some Italian cities about Window Flicks.
The project is completely self-funded by Karkhoff, whose architecture company, MetaGrey, digitally transforms commercial properties, to convert Berlin into an “innovative and smart capital.” Karkhoff is paying his MetaGrey employees to help with the film project out of hours.
“I don’t have any interest in money, and so I’m not really thinking about doing a business out of it,” he says. “It’s a gift for our city.”