Modern Cinema Peaks up in Addis

Recently, an increasing number of cinemas with modern visual and sound system are opening their doors in Addis Ababa. Since last year, Century, Gast, Birsh and Abyssinia Cinemas have joined the industry to screen Hollywood made views along with local ones. Together with Edna Mall’s Matti Multiplex, which opened 11 years ago, these movie theaters are serving moviegoers with the appetite of watching Hollywood movies upon release. EBR’s Kiya Ali explores.

In the last ten years, the number of movie theaters in Addis Ababa has increased. The latest figure shows that there are 34 cinemas in the city. But most of these movie theaters lack the appropriate facilities and do not meet international standards. Movie lovers especially with appetite for Hollywood made films such as Tizita Markos, 24, were forced to go to Edna Mall Matti Multiplex, which has been the sole entertainer showing multiple and latest box-office (foreign) as well as local motion pictures.

Until recently, Tizita has no option other than travelling more than seven kilometers from Arat kilo to Bole Medhanialemin in Addis Ababa to watch box office films. “I prefer watching box office movies, but I was not able to find cinemas showing such films nearby,” she says.
However recently, things have changed. She can now find Birsh Cinema, a standard movie theater near her home in Arada district. Even though she waits at least an hour to watch a movie especially in weekdays, where few people only come to watch movies, Tizita prefers to wait patiently. “The quality of the sound system with modern and comfortable VIP chairs compensate the time I waste while waiting,” she says.

Established earlier this year, Birish Cinema started operations three months ago. It has two cinema halls, which together have 48 VIP and 478 standard seats. The two cinemas have modern sound systems and high-definition silver screen. The seats, especially in the VIP section, are very comfortable. “We joined the industry with a higher sound quality and unique screen,” says Eyerusalem Tsegaye, a supervisor at the Cinema.

Constructed by experts from China, the cinema created job opportunities for 30 people. At least three American and two Amharic movies are screened every week at Birsh. During weekends, the number of moviegoers hit high. That’s why entrance fee increases by 20Pct. The Cinema charges a standard weekday entrance fee of ETB100. The demand for western movies is very high in the VIP section, while the reverse is true for Amharic movies,” Eyerusalem told EBR. Alula Abay, General Manager of Soloda Cinema, shares this sentiment. “One of the reasons for the surge in demand for Hollywood movies is the decline in the production of Amharic movies,” said Alula, who shut down one of his cinema halls recently due to the decline of Amharic movies viewers. “In fact production of local movies has declined too.”

Such opportunities paved the way for modern movie theaters to flourish in the capital. Located inside Gast Entertainment Mall around Michael Church on CMC Boulevard, Gast Cinema is another late entrant which has brought the latest technologies in the industry. Unlike Birsh, the company has built two cinema halls, gym and game zone for all ages at a cost of around half a billion birr. “Our aim is to provide full-fledged entertainment to our customers,” said Dawit Tekle, General Manager of the Company. “We have joined the sector after witnessing the high demand around the area where our building is located.”

Besides GAST and Birsh, Century, Abyssinia and EBM have also joined the industry recently. These cinemas have entered into agreement with Middle East basedsuppliers of the latest box-office motion pictures to receive latest movies. When movies made in Hollywood are released, the cinemas are obliged to show both widely accepted and less popular ones.

The agreement includes how revenue will be shared between the two parties. During the day a particular movie is released, the suppliers take 60Pct of the revenues from the sales of tickets. Their share, however, declines gradually to 50Pct afterwards until the movie is taken off from the screen. Movies may stay on the screen for about three weeks; and generate USD5,000 and USD10,000 revenues from the sales of entrance tickets.

In Ethiopia, movie theaters are classified not by the technology they use; but by the number of seats they have. According to the Addis Ababa Culture, Arts and Tourism Office, there are four types of cinemas. Level 1 cinemas have bigger hall with a minimum of 200 seats; while Level 2 cinemas have seating capacity of 30 to 50. Cinemas that fall under ‘Level 3’ category have a mini hall with more than 100 seats.

Open air and driving cinemas, the later require having a parking area with a capacity of holding 200 cars, on the other hand, are categorized into ‘Level 4’. Sound proof hall, two exit entrance and doors and additional fire exit are the prerequisites that should be fulfilled to open cinema.

Yisma Tsige, Director of Cultural and Industry Development at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, says only few investors are interested to construct and run movie theaters in Ethiopia. He attributes the problem to the big tax levied on imported equipment that is crucial to open a cinema. “We have started discussions with stakeholders to avert such challenges and come up with solutions.”

Problems in areas of equipment and spare part supply are also discouraging investors from putting their money into the sector. Spare part items like lamp, which is necessary to light their projector, is another expenses incurred by cinemas. Even these small items cost between ETB 80,000 and ETB100,000 due to high taxation.

“Considering the higher tax levied on materials needed to run a cinema and unavailability of spare parts in the local market, the business is not profitable,” says Elias Abreham, cinema section manager at Edna Matti Cinema, which has three standard cinema halls with combined capacity of 735 seats.

“On average, about 1,000 movie lovers come to Edna Matti Cinema to watch movie weekly, while the figure reaches as high as 2,500 during the summer,” Elias explains. “But the cinema survived in the sector not because it is profitable. Rather it is the subsidy from our parent company that helped us to stay in the market.

Industry insiders say, it will cost up to ETB100 million to open a standard cinema theatre with three halls that have world class sound system and screen.

8th Year • July.16 – Aug.15 2019 • No. 76

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