Before I moved to Helsinki, I started dating a local film buff. The theater of choice for buffs at the time was Orion. The theater was founded in 1928 and is a Helsinki institution. Last year, we were reminded of how fragile it actually is despite its iconic status. The National Audiovisual Institute decided to move to a new theater and left Orion to fend for itself. There was talk about shutting it down. After vigorous and successful fundraising by distressed filmgoers, the ELKE association took over and the theater was saved. The new Orion is essentially the old Orion. Just the way we like it.
The programme is very varied and ambitious. There are art house films, strange old films, the occasional new blockbuster, events and curated film series. Helsinki has a number of small niche cinemas and we are often spoilt for choice, but Orion is the grand old dame of the city’s theaters. It obviously requires a lot of maintenance, but it is still beautiful in all its Art Deco glory. The facilities are a bit cramped, but the seats are incredibly comfortable. They don’t sell popcorn, but you can get a candy bar at the counter if you need one. In a word, it’s perfect. It’s perfect because everything in it matters to the people who regularly go there.
Not much has changed since my date and I first started going to Orion. Now we live together in Helsinki and went to see A Moment of Innocence by Mohsen Makhmalbaf just last night – the film was shown to celebrate the director’s visit to the Midnight Sun Film Festival earlier in June. The programme is the main reason we enjoy going, but the theater itself is a close second. It’s like an old, fuzzy blanket that never fails to comfort.