Cinemas on the Rise Despite Poor Quality

Cinemas on the Rise Despite Poor Quality

Ethiopia’s film industry is quickly growing: last fiscal year the industry produced 107 films. This statistic, along with the upwardly mobile Ethiopians that are increasingly looking for leisure activities, demonstrates that there’s a great deal of growth potential for Ethiopia’s film industry. This growth is contributing to another phenomenon: the rapid construction of cinema houses. Just three years ago, there were only 11 cinemas in Addis Ababa; now, that figure is 28. Industry insiders say that these establishments are great because they provide spaces for filmmakers to showcase their works. Others, however, point to the poor quality of these facilities and are calling on the government to take more strict action in regulating them. EBR’s Meseret Mamo spoke with cinema owners, filmmakers and government representatives to learn more about the issue and offers this report.

Throughout Addis Ababa, it’s become customary to see colourful movie advertisements adorning taxis, restaurants, electric poles and other public spaces. Another increasingly common site has also emerged in the city: long queues of loyal filmgoers waiting to watch locally produced movies.
Both phenomena paint a clear picture of the growth and size of Ethiopia’s burgeoning film industry. Last fiscal year alone, 107 films were produced– and some of the industry’s most popular films have earned millions of birr in theatres.
Nevertheless, filmmaking isn’t the only lucrative enterprise in the entertainment sector: opening a cinema hall is also a profitable endeavour. In fact, an increasing number of cinemas are opening their doors throughout the capital, even on the peripheries of the city.
One such cinema hall is Africa Cinema, located in the Kolfe Karanyo District. The cinema was formerly known as Sina Cinema four years ago. However, the increasing number of filmgoers in the area persuaded Bazen Entertainment PLC, owner of the cinema, to expand. Therefore, in January 2015, the cinema hall was reborn with a new name and an additional 300 seats.
Kidus Andualem, manager of Africa Cinema, says the owners spent close to ETB1.5 million to expand the facility. He explains that the decision to renovate a movie theatre on the outskirts of the city makes sense economically. “The city is expanding rapidly and more and more families are now starting to live far from the centre of the city,” he says. “This forces different service providers, such as cinema halls, to look towards these locations with untapped potential.”
Still, Africa Cinema’s owners have their eyes set on an even bigger goal: expanding their brand by opening more branches. Kidus says the owners are planning to open a second movie theatre around the first Jemo condominium site, another remote area, by January 2016.
The expansion of cinemas across the city provides an opportunity for loyal filmgoers, like Mulugeta Belay, 29, to watch movies on a consistent basis. Mulugeta is a lawyer by profession and keeps a tight schedule because of his job. He lives around Mekanyssa in the Nifas Silk Lafto District, near two cinema halls, and says that the proximity of these theatres provides him the chance for much-needed leisure. “Since I work late, finding a cinema close to my home is a dream come true,” he says.
Still, new theatres are opening up in already-populated areas and are enjoying success. Soloda Cinema commenced operations in June 2015. Although the theatre is found in the centre of the city in an area known for housing many theatres, its owner, Simegn Shiferahu, says business is still good.
“We made an assessment before opening the cinema about our target customers,” Simegn told EBR. “Although we charge a little more [for each film], we focus on audiences that prefer customised services like the ones that do not have the time to wait in line.”
Soloda, which uses a ticket reservation system, has two cinema houses, each with a 100-seat capacity. It is also constructing a third that will display Hollywood films.
Data obtained from the Addis Ababa Culture and Tourism Bureau confirms the number of cinema halls operating by the private sector is increasing dramatically in Addis Ababa.
At the end of 2012/13 fiscal year, only 11 cinemas were operating in the capital. This figure, however, currently stands at 28, representing a nearly threefold growth in three years. What’s more, five of the existing cinemas opened their doors in the last three months and another 20 cinemas, such as Africa Cinema’s second branch, are in the process of getting their competency certification.
In addition to the proliferation of private theatres, there are also three state-owned cinemas: Ambassador Theatre, Cinema Ethiopia and Cinema Empire, which have 1,447, 1,012 and 805 seats respectively. What’s more, many commercial buildings in Addis Ababa are re-designing their facilities to include cinemas. The reasoning behind this trend is largely economic: Buildings that have cinemas attract a large number of visitors per day, which contributes well to tenant’s interests to acquire a place at a higher rate. Such buildings include Getu Commercial Centre, which houses Holly Cinema and Dembel City Centre recently inaugurated Vine Cinema.
Tweodros Teshome, owner of Sebastopol Entertainment PLC, which operates two cinema houses in Addis Ababa, says opening more cinemas will also support the nascent Ethiopian film industry. “Even if there is limited demand for [Ethiopian films], one can create a market by simply investing in areas that have fewer cinemas,” he told EBR.
To realise his dream, Tewodros says his company will open eight new cinemas in Addis Ababa and other regional cities within a few months by investing ETB22 million. Six of the cinema houses will be located in the capital and the remaining theatres will be in regional cities like Jimma and Hawassa.
Stakeholders stress that the rise of cinemas will provide venues for local film producers who are struggling to find a place to display their movies. “It will be a great opportunity for producers like me to show our films to an increased number of audiences,” argues Roman Befekadu, a producer and actress. “[More theatres] will also give moviegoers a chance to watch local films in convenient [locations].”
Indeed, in Addis Ababa it is not only the movie audiences that stand in a queue at the gates of the cinema; filmmakers too have to wait to get their films screened for the public. In government-owned cinemas, local producers are forced to wait up to two years to have their films seen. In privately owned cinemas, they have to pass the criteria set by the cinemas: to present a movie that the audience would like.
Nevertheless, government officials and industry insiders are saying the increasing number of cinemas doesn’t mean they function in a quality manner. Among the 28 movie theatres operating in the city, less than five cinemas are properly built for the purpose, according to Habtamu Teklu, film supervision and support officer at the Addis Ababa Culture and Tourism Bureau. The rest, he says, don’t fulfil the requirements set by the Bureau in one way or another.
Roman agrees with Habtamu. “Why do you see people overcrowding a few cinema houses in the city?” she asks. “It is because there are a few cinemas that maintain quality.”
For consistent moviegoers, it is common to see cinema houses with broken chairs and no emergency exit. Having a quality projector with an amplifier and a surround sound system are some of the criteria put forth by the Bureau, along with air conditioning and toilets for both genders and the disabled.
Despite developing criteria, the Bureau only uses the number of available seats when grading cinema houses before they open. “The industry is new, and now is not the time to take strict action against cinema halls that don’t fulfil the criteria,” argues Habtamu.
Industry insiders, however, say the disparate quality of cinemas in Ethiopia signifies a larger reality: that the country has a long way to go before its film industry achieves international standards. They urge that policy makers should work towards institutionalising and enhancing the development of the industry to the next professional level. Enforcing the criteria set by the government, they say, will create competition among cinema houses, which eventually will bring quality to Ethiopia’s fledgling film industry. EBR

4th Year • November 16 – December 15 2015 • No. 33

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