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Historically, going to the movies was sacred and prestigious

Historically, going to the movies was sacred and prestigious. It was and still held in high regard even today. Spice explores the viability of the industry and the changes it has undergone

Manuel Ntoyai @Manuel_Ntoyai and Grace Wachira @yaa_graceW

hen the Lumiѐre Brothers started showing films in France in the late 19th Century, little did they know the impact they would have centuries later. From job opportunities, to helping revolutionalise the industry, a lot of changes have occurred, prompted by different scenarios.

“The first memories I have of cinema was when we used to have lorries visiting estates to screen films. It was in the 70s when I started my A levels, that I got my first real cinema experience. For us, paying three shillings to sit at the circle with your date was the ultimate goal. You would buy popcorns and a bottle of coke and that was it,” shares People Daily Quality and Training Editor Chris Odwesso.

For cinema lovers of his time, so many things we enjoy today were not in their minds and they could not fathom what was to come.

“It used to be a black and white affair and when colour TV and films came in, it was a game changer. Before Star Wars, there was an influx of Kung Fu movies with the likes of Wang Yu who would do preposterous stuff and all these camera tricks ,which have evolved too,” Odwesso adds.

The Spice team has been invited time and again to the premieres of blockbuster movies, and it is not hard to see why they are still a thing. The world premiere of the Men in Black International, starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, a few weeks ago, just proves that the theatres are still reeling movies. It would not be the first time filmgoers showed up, dressed to kill, at the theatre on time. The same was witnessed at the Black Panther premiere.

Drastically reduced

For most, such blissful moments could only be found at the cinema. It was, for the longest time, also the only place to watch the latest flicks from Hollywood. However, the emergence of Video cassette recorder (VCR) and availability of movie libraries, visits to cinemas and number of moviegoers has drastically reduced.

Fans at the Black Panther premiere in February 2018.

Local movie halls started sprouting in almost every town, with young men quickly hooked to the new fix.

It was cheap, easily accessible with local translations for those who could not understand English.

“When I came to Nairobi in the early 90s, people were still frequenting the cinema halls. The Globe Cinema was near where I worked and I envied those who frequented the place. I once saved some money to take a girlfriend on date.

When we got in the hall, apart from following the story from what was on screen, I couldn’t comprehend the English being spoken and felt out place. From then, I decided to watch films in my neighbourhood since there was a movie hall. Later the owner became my supplier of the video cassettes when I bought my VCR and TV,” says Robert Kyule, a shop owner on Kijabe Street.

Netflix and chill

In the new era, ‘Netflix and chill’- an internet phrase indicating invitation to watch Netflix together or euphemism for sex- has taken over the traditional movie dates where one would take their loved one to the cinema to experience pure ecstasy for a couple of hours, surrounded by strangers, with top-notch projections with state-of- art sound.

This new phenomenon, facilitated by convenience of not leaving the house and that people can now afford to install 3D TV systems and built-in surround sound systems at home, has contributed to the dwindling fortunes of cinema.

“What technology has done is give people options on what and when to watch. People are now able to stream their favourite movies online such as via Netflix and for those who don’t mind muddling in the grey areas, sites like torrents are there to serve them as well,” says film producer Peter Ogallo.

For some time, this seemed to be the final nail on the coffin, but things are not really what they seem, according to Naomi Mwangi, the marketing manager for Anga IMAX movie theatres. “In fact, we have hundreds upon hundreds of fans who throng theatres even today,” she says.

Mwangi, who has been at the helm of the IMAX marketing for close to four years now, adds that preference is a key factor in the sales and screening of the movies.

“For example, movies from production houses like Marvel or DC Comics always have their niche audience who show up for the premier and even weeks into its screening,” she explains, adding that they have, at times, been forced to extend screenings of a few movies due to high demand.

Celcius Allo, who manages Prestige Cinema, shares the same thoughts. “There are horror, action and even gaming groups for movie fanatics and they dutifully watch them. They are not watered down by the availability of other forms of entertainment or accessibility of movies today,” he says, adding that weekends and evenings are the prime time for such crowds.

“We have people who go on dates and visit the auditorium and others who come as a group to enjoy themselves,” he adds.

Still strong

For adults who saw the movies as a romantic outing, the tradition still stands. “We even know our guests because of how often they come to watch the movies but that said, we have had a shift. Sometimes, it is students coming in. The age we have observed frequently is 20-35. They not only have the purchasing power but also are also enthusiastic about the movie theatre,” Mwangi explains.

The cinema is also a favourite for children. “They come with guardians and sometimes as whole families. This group comes on weekends to watch animations.

Since we classify the movies we screen as either PG rated or below 16, this, by default, categorises the audience the theatre attracts,” she says, adding that school groups also show up at the halls and that many note that the movie experience cannot be replicated in homes.

“And because of that, we still have crowds streaming in to watch the movies, especially if they are in 3D. They will definitely buy the tickets and show up,” she adds.

Edwin Kuria, 26, diligently attends the theatres to watch his favourite movies.

“Ever since I was little, I always looked forward to watching movies at the theatres and I go with my friends,” he says, adding that he likes the experience because of the sound.

“My home is no theatre, so I don’t get to appreciate the movie. Plus, the visuals are to die for on a huge screen,” he says.

The last time the media creative, who likes book and comic book adaptations, action, sci-fi and horror flicks, attended the movies was just last week. For him, parting with Sh900 is worth it.

“Besides, because of my busy schedule, I never have recreational time and I can’t fully concentrate on a movie while in the house, but in a movie theatre, I will definitely watch it to the end and relax while at it. It is value for money.”

The not-so-good

Mwangi acknowledges that the country’s economy affects the business. “When the economy suffers, we too suffer. Even those with the purchasing power, mostly the middle class, go slow on this mode of entertainment and we are forced to compete with others. Look at it this way, you purch

ase a ticket, get popcorn and drinks or hotdogs amounting to Sh2,500. That’s an amount someone can use to get a different form of entertainment,” she says, adding that the type of film screened also affects numbers.

“There are movies that do not sit well with the Kenyan market despite being well received internationally and just like that, the cinema hall makes losses,” she adds.

Allo says that they are not blind to the fact that paid television and even the likes of Netflix and Showmax pose as threats.

“Movie lovers will look at it as an unworthy expense and opt out. We know that, and it has made business just a little slow, but we are still in business,” he affirms.

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