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Africa's Film Theaters Crumble


Many of Africa's film makers are criticizing the state of African cinema. They say it is not talent or inspiration that is lacking in the continent's film industry, it's a lack of venues. In the 1990s, many cinemas closed their doors and few new ones have opened. Voice of America reporter Kari Barber has more from Dakar, Senegal, with additional reporting by Tatiana Mossot in Conakry, Guinea.

Cinemas in Dakar were government-run until reforms in the late 1990s put cinemas in the hands of private companies. Many of them failed.

The venues that remain are mostly small, community-run operations. For them, little has changed since their heyday decades ago.

One family-run cinema in Conakry, Guinea, continued showing movies during nationwide strikes and deadly protests earlier this year.


An employee at the cinema says movies are an escape for him during times of violence in the country. He spoke in French, saying "I like the cinema a lot. It gives me things to think about and it gives me time to be at peace."

Senegal-based director and producer Adams Sie says it is difficult to be a filmmaker when there are few cinemas to show his work. Sie says Dakar used to have more than 15 cinemas. Now only a handful remain: "All of the cinemas are dying. The cinemas have been transformed to commercial centers and buildings..."

For example, one such building in Dakar is now a shopping center.
It used to house a cinema called The Roxy, and attracted large crowds in the 1980s and early 90s. But not everyone was sad to see it go. A neighboring vendor says the cinema attracted thieves who often robbed movie-goers in dark theaters and prostitutes who waited outside. Besides that, he said he could not afford a ticket, which cost about five dollars.

After the transition to private ownership, many cinemas fell into disrepair and lacked security. People say they were afraid to go to them.

Another reason for the failure of cinemas, some say, is the emergence of DVDs and VCDs. Bootleg copies of movies cost only a few dollars and are usually available before the film arrives in theaters.

Vendor Mamadou Conte says that while DVD and VCD sales were good a few years ago, he now faces more competition from cable television.

The El Hadj theater projects American movies from DVDs on a large screen. The owner admits the quality is poor and it is illegal. He says American distributors stopped sending reels with new films to Senegal in 2005 because profits were too low. The theater has been playing the same American films for two years.

Owner Alioune Diagne says he thinks African cinemas need to evolve into multi-purpose entertainment facilities: "In three months, God willing, we are going to renovate this space and you will have a cafeteria, a business center, an Internet center and restaurant."

Diagne says he hopes someday to be able to legally show American movies again. In the meantime, African cinema operators will continue to make do with what they have, meaning play the movies available to them and try to avoid the death that has befallen so many other cinemas.

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