While growing up as a boy, I remember scurrying along the dark corridors of cinema halls with many other children to watch a Hindi, American War film or a Chinese movie. The cinema hall offered an escape to many children, some of whom would be disciplined by their parents that night for neglecting their household chores or staying out late. The magic of cinema was simply irresistible and many boys my age were willing to pay the price; whatever it was.
With the advent of the digital era, however, the communal experience of cinema seem to have waned. Many households now own DVD players and cinema hall operators have gone out of business in the face of increased technological demands on the industry and cinema audience sophistication.
Today, cinema audiences want to experience Surround Sound (SRS), put on their 3D spectacles and drift off to another planet; nibbling on popcorn and sipping on a fizzy drink. The golden age of cinema has arrived, and the big players of the industry now have to satisfy the varying needs of a sophisticated audience. It is often said that “curiosity kills the cat”, but my curiosity about cinema, in its modern form, led me to the Silverbird Cinema in Accra Ghana where I met an officer for an interview.
It soon became clear to me that the old tradition of people swarming the cinemas was now coming back. When asked what the current trend was, my host disclosed “the current trend is that the old tradition is actually coming back again. We have people calling, making inquiries online about new movies and when we have what we call day-and-date or current movies, thousands of people troupe in here to watch.”
It is not out of place to hear some people blame churches for taken over cinema houses in Ghana. There was a trend some years back where some of the known cinema houses in Accra were inhabited by churches after the cinema business ground to a halt. Contrary to the thought that cinema operators were forced out by churches, the officer attributed the cause of this collapse to the capital-intensive nature of running modern cinema houses. “The culture of cinema waned because the cinema business is now very expensive; acquiring good current movies is very expensive. Those old cinema houses were mostly owned by individuals…they were not owned by big companies. So I believe along the line these individuals had a limit to how much they could spend on new movies and new equipment because trends change. We have really heavily invested in modern equipment…we also have the ability to secure and get current day-and-date movies”, he said.
Watching many classical Hollywood movies, one gets the impression that the cinema is a place for only lovers. But my host points to the fact that there are many other people who share in the cinema experience. “Everyone comes here depending on what movie we’re showing and what their interests are. We have people who are movie buffs who just love movies, people who have a date and they come here to watch movies and others come here just to release tension…everyone finds an excuse to come here”, he noted.
Talking about how free movies on the internet was affecting the cinema business, he observed “it’s affected us in two ways positive and negative…the negative way is that people would say if I can download it off the internet or buy a DVD by the road side why would I come and pay money to watch it. So obviously they wouldn’t come here. The positive thing is that people are now getting more information about new movies and it helps our market because we show date-and –day movies. If they know we have it, they’ll do their research.”
Cinema halls aren’t just important because they provide a viewing haven for movie lovers, but also because they are necessary for the growth and development of our local movie industry. Some movie-makers have often lamented that Silverbird Cinema only focuses on premiering foreign movies. I therefore asked my host what his establishment was doing to encourage the premiering of local movies.
“Silverbird is African-owned and our head office is in Nigeria…we’re Africans. We’d love to collaborate with African movie makers…we’ve premiered a few African films like ‘Mirror Boy’…most of Shirley Frimpong Manso’s series were premiered here… ‘Contract’ didn’t premiere here but did so well here. What we look out for is quality…we want to promote Ghanaian films…we want Ghanaian films to go international so we’re a bit selective. We’ve got a committee and everyone can bring a film here to be reviewed for sound quality, picture quality, marketability and many other things…we want to make sure that every film that is premiered here is something that will take the filmmaker places. We try to encourage people to spend more time, more energy and resources in producing good African films and we’re here to help them premier it”.
One thing that became clear after this interview was the fact that the cinema experience would never be anything like in the days when I was a boy. New technology in cinema and the fact that audiences had become more sophisticated had simply changed cinema forever.