Cinema is an enduring art form, remarkably capable of withstanding the technological advances of the 20th century to emerge, in the 21st, much the same as it was a hundred years ago. Few activities that involve sitting in complete silence, shrouded in darkness, are as inherently social as a night at the movies. Time and again we’re reminded that cinemas perform a vital social function, generate dialogue and are capable of forging a community.

But in the 1980s, as it became easier to watch films in the comfort of home, cinema attendances worldwide suffered, leading to countless closures. In Ilanz, a tiny Swiss city on the banks of the Rhine, the 1989 closure of the area’s last cinema sparked the beginning of Filmclub Ilanz, a dedicated band of local cinephiles. For 15 years they presented sceenings in makeshift locations around the town until a 19th century forge presented itself as a permanent location in the heart of the alpine city.

Happy hour at Cinema Sil Plaz. Photograph by Flurina Rothenberger
Photograph by Flurina Rothenberger
Cinema Sil Plaz entrance. Photograph by Flurina Rothenberger

“Cinema Sil Plaz really shines for how it has united the residents of Ilanz. The small, single screen cinema and its bar and venue serve the distinct needs of the alpine community.”

Cinema Sil Plaz was pieced together on a shoestring budget using the resources of the community. Within the club’s members were its architects, Ramun Capaul and Gordian Blumenthal. Just over 100 km away, beyond an Alp or two, lived an Austrian rammed-earth specialist, and so the architects’ experiments with the material took flight.

The result is simultaneously humble and breathtaking, something attested to by the architectural tourists that pass through Ilanz on their way to Peter Zumthor’s Val Thermal Pools. But Cinema Sil Plaz really shines for how it has united the residents of Ilanz. The small, single screen cinema and its bar and venue serve the distinct needs of the alpine community. The rammed earth isn’t simply visually striking – it’s a highly sustainable use of materiality that enhances the acoustics of both the cinema and the venue, helping create a state-of-the-art destination. As a result, the city of just 2000 residents now frequently hosts international musicians and speakers in their cinema.

When the stage isn’t hosting live music, it’s scattered with chairs and tables with patinas only a mountain village can provide. Here, a cinema club that for so long wandered the Alps without shelter now spend long evenings drinking local wine, discussing film and feeling proud of what they’ve helped build.

Architects Ramun Capaul and Gordian Blumenthal outside Cinema Sil Plaz. Photograph by Flurina Rothenberger
Porthole view onto auditorium. Photograph by Flurina Rothenberger
Moviegoer's view of the screen. Photograph by Flurina Rothenberger


Ilanz, Switzerland

Capaul & Blumenthal

Filmclub Ilanz


Flurina Rotherberger


Samuel Davison is Editor at Right Angle Studio. He has written extensively on cities for a range of international publications. He also publishes This is the Same Ocean, an annual journal of photography. His photographic work has been shown around the world and he was the 2016 winner of the Independent Photography Festival’s Grand Jury Prize.