Cinema in Africa makes a ‘third-reel come­back’

Mail & Guardian - - Africa - David Es­nault in Abidjan

Like the plot of an old-fash­ioned movie, cinemas in Africa are mak­ing a third-reel come­back after years of wor­ry­ing de­cline.

In many coun­tries south of the Sa­hara, dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, strong in­vest­ment and mod­ern the­atres are bring­ing about a major re­vival of movie-go­ing, end­ing years of cinema clo­sures.

But the good news comes with a draw­back: t he new cinema com­plexes give prece­dence to Hol­ly­wood block­busters rather than films made by African di­rec­tors.

In the 1980s, a wave of cinema clo­sures be­gan to un­furl across the con­ti­nent as run­down pic­ture palaces were turned into auto re­pair shops, su­per­mar­kets, restau­rants and even churches.

To­day, con­ti­nent-wide fig­ures for the in­dus­try are sketchy, but the sec­tor is mak­ing a come­back. It’s driven by de­mo­graphic de­mand and dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy that pro­vides low-cost dis­tri­bu­tion.

“The de­mand is there,” says JeanMarc Be­jani, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Ma­jes­tic chain, which has opened three cinemas in Abidjan in the past two years. Next year, the chain will open three more in the Yopougon district.

Oil in­dus­try pro­fes­sional Be­jani dis­cov­ered there were no cinemas left in Côte d’Ivoire. Suc­cess came fast: 75 000 tick­ets were sold for a sin­gle cinema in 2015 and 175 000 in 2016. “Be­fore this, the movie the­atres were old and tech­ni­cally out­dated,” Be­jani says.

“I come of­ten,” says school­girl Marie Benoit at a Ma­jes­tic cinema as smart as any Euro­pean mul­ti­plex.

Canal Olympia has ap­plied a simi- lar hi-tech ap­proach to its bid to con­quer West and Cen­tral Africa. Since 2016, this sub­sidiary of global en­ter­tain­ment group Vivendi has opened six cinemas in Cameroon, Sene­gal, Niger, Burk­ina Faso and Guinea.

The group’s aim is to con­struct sev­eral dozen multi-role com­plexes, and work to build three new venues has started.

“A mid­dle class is de­vel­op­ing in Africa ,” says Corinne Bach, head of Canal Olympia.

In a num­ber of coun­tries, old cinemas are be­ing up­graded or re­opened in An­gola, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo and Chad.

On the other side of the con­ti­nent, in Kenya, the re­newal of cinema be­gan about a decade ago. The East African na­tion has sev­eral mod­ern cinemas, usu­ally lo­cated in shop­ping malls, in place of the small venues of yore.

But Franco-Gabonese di­rec­tor Sa­man­tha Bif­fot be­moans the lack of African films on show. “The cinemas need to screen our work, be­cause most African films are only to be seen at fes­ti­vals or abroad,” she says. — AFP

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