Return of the big screen
In the Nigeria of today, especially in big cities such as Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, watching movies on TV screen has become ‘old skool’; cinema is the new cool. Aside maybe Mexican soaps on Telemundo channel that holds our ladies captive, movie buffs prefer the big screen. Apart from entertainment, going to the cinema, for most young people, has become a lifestyle. And with movie premieres becoming a major item on the events calendar, it seems cinema has come to stay.
For movie enthusiasts, the gradual return of the cinema to the Nigerian entertainment culture, after it had disappeared in the past two decades or so, is showing that life does not end with home videos. It is now quite normal to see fun-seeking Lagosians trooping to the cinemas every weekend. And with the rise in the number of shopping malls across the country, more cinemas are expected to prop up.
As real estate has continued to take over every available open space in the cities, including playgrounds and parks, cinemas have provided alternative where young people could hang out, watch movies and eat popcorn. In fact, a lot of parents are at home with the new trend; it’s like a huge relief to a lot of families. At least, for now there is a secure place to go to at the weekends and holidays.
In terms of job creation, the return of cinema has been a huge blessing to the country as it has created job opportunities for teeming Nigerian youths, who work as ticketing officers, admin officers, cleaners, technical staff and the rest, not forgetting other ancillary business opportunities with and around the cinema.
However, before the cinemas returned, movie lovers were left with no option other than the local content on terrestrial TV stations and PayTV platforms. Usually, the movies came in the form of VCDs and later, when DVDs later were introduced, producers began to move with the trend, churning out several movies in the video format. Today, with the return of the cinemas as pioneered by Ben Murray Bruce’s Silverbird Cinemas in 2004, several producers have seemingly found a way of evading pirates by taking their movies for public viewing.
“There are people who are trying to fight piracy as much as they can, but what we are doing now is that we are putting a hold on DVD in our income stream; we are not including it anymore. We just enter cinema, cable rights, Internet rights and the rest. So, by the time you do DVD, whatever comes, you take,” Uduak Isong Oguamanam, producer of Falling said in an interview with The Guardian.
To some filmmakers in Nigeria, funding is considered a major hindrance. However, a closer look shows that distribution is a major problem in the film industry and that explains why piracy has remained on the rise. But with a vibrant cinema culture, Nollywood seems to have heaved a sigh of relief.
“Even if you get the money to make a movie, if you cannot sell the movie, what’s the point? 30 Days in Atlanta was highly successful and this would have probably been the first time that someone bought a house in Ikoyi from film, if he had made the kind of money he made in at the cinemas from DVD sales as well,” Oguamanam, the CEO of Closer Pictures noted.
Initially, movies shown at the cinemas were mainly those from Hollywood, but in 2009, Stephanie Okereke broke the jinx when her movie, Through The Glass, premiered at the cinemas. The success of the movie, which reportedly made over N10 million at the box office, obviously served as a wake-up call to other producers. In fact, Kunle Afolayan’s The Figurine came on the heels of Through The Glass and became the first Nigerian box office hit, making over N30 million at the cinemas.
For the producer of Anchor Baby, Lonzo Nzekwe, whose movie made over N17m, the return of the cinemas is a blessing for both the producers and movie lovers.
“I had a great experience releasing Anchor Baby in Nigeria cinemas. I self-distributed the film to all the cinema houses in Nigeria. I flew from Canada a month in advance and went to each cinema to negotiate the deals. It was very challenging, but it opened my eyes on how business is done in Nigeria. Also, I learnt that Nigerians are very supportive when presented with a good quality product,” he says.
The Boom, Decline And The Return
By Daniel Anazia
As far back 1930 through 1940, cinema was already a common feature of the social life in the then emerging city of Lagos, and this paved way for the establishment of big commercial cinema houses with branches in strategic locations of the country.
One of the earliest cinema operators in Lagos was the West African Pictures Company owned by Mr. S. Khalil, a member of the Syrian community in Lagos. He established the Rex Cinema in Ebute Metta, Regal Cinema and Royal Cinema.
Other popular cinema chains include: Capitol Cinema, Casino Cinema, Kings Cinema, Central Cinema, Rialto Cinema, Corona Cinema, Odeon Cinema, Road House Cinema, Ikeja Arms Cinema, Pen Cinema and Glover Hall.
By 1954, mobile cinema vans played to at least 3.5 million people in Nigeria, and films being produced by the Nigerian Film Unit were screened for free at the 44 available cinemas. The first film entirely copyrighted to the Nigerian Film unit is Fincho (1957) by Sam Zebba, which is also the first Nigerian film to be shot in colour.
After the independence in 1960, cinema business in Nigeria rapidly expanded, with new cinema houses being established. However, there came a significant influx of American, Indian, Chinese and Japanese films; posters of films from these countries were all over theatre halls and actors from these industries became very popular in Nigeria.
Towards the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Nigerian contents in theatres increased gradually, especially productions from Western Nigeria, owing to theatre practitioners such as Hubert Ogunde, Ola Balogun, Moses Olaiya, Jab Adu, Isola Ogunsola, Ladi Ladebo, Sanya Dosumu and Sadiq Balewa, among others, transitioning into the big screen.
With the oil boom in 1973 through 1978, there was increased purchasing power of Nigerians, and there was disposable income to spend on cinema going, which contributed immensely to the rapid boost of the cinema culture in the country. However, by late 1980s, the cinema culture took a dive, and most Nigerian film producers transitioned to television productions as every state had its own broadcasting station.
The gradual decline of the Golden era of Nigerian cinema was attributed to several factors, including the reduction in the value of Naira, lack of finance and marketing support; lack of standard film studios and production equipment, frequent government structural adjustment programmes due to military dictatorships, as well as inexperience on the part of practitioners.
This drastic decline in cinema culture resulted in some of the existing cinema houses being acquired by religious bodies and turned to churches; others simply just closed down. In the early 1990s, only a few of the once vibrant cinema houses were still in operation, and all had collapsed before 1999.
By 2013, Nigerian film industry was rated the third most valuable in the world based on its worth and revenues generated. Every film in Nigeria had a potential audience of 15 million people in Nigeria and about five million outside Nigeria. As at 2004, at least four to five films were produced everyday in Nigeria, and these movies dominated television screens across the African continent and by extension, the Diaspora.
The actors became household names across the continent, and the movies significantly influenced cultures in many African nations, from their way of dressing to speech and usage of Nigerian slangs. This was attributed to the fact that Nigerian films told relatable stories, which made foreign films to gather dust on the shelves of video stores, even though they cost much less.
However, this didn’t translate to an overtly commercial industry when compared to other major film hubs across the world. The worth of the industry was approximated at just about US$250 million, since most of the films produced were cheaply made.
Since mid-2000, there have been a resurgence of cinema establishment and a steady return of the culture in Nigeria, and it has undergone some restructuring in quality and professionalism, with Kunle Afolayan’s The Figurine, produced in 2009 which is widely regarded as marking a major turnaround of cinema in Nigeria.
With the coming of the Silverbird Group, and the setting up of the Silverbird Galleria, the country began to experience the growth in cinema, which was initially structured for the middle and upper classes. The Group launched a series of modern Cinema houses across major cities in Nigeria, majorly in affluent areas and districts, starting with the Silverbird Galleria situated at Victoria Island, Lagos in 2004.
The upscale cinema facility is within a shopping mall where mercantile activities take place. This provides more reasons to visit the place beyond just watching films, but more of a social activity and a modified sort of entertainment, a trend believed to be another probable reason to the decline of the cinema culture in Nigeria in the 1980s.
Silverbird’s experiment became very successful, and as a result, the group launched few more cinema branches in Lagos and other cities in the country. Not long after the setting up of Silverbird Cinemas, Genesis Deluxe Cinemas and Ozone Cinemas were also launched, creating a competition in the cinema business.
In 2012, Film House Cinemas was also set up, leading to the availability of more cinemas in the country, especially outside the rich neighbourhoods, with designs and operation styles that largely incorporate complimentary multifarious features including games arcade, ice cream café, food concession, toys shop, digital cinema, 3D cinema and kid’s club.
Lending his voice on the return of cinema culture in Nigeria, a Senior Lecturer in the Theatre Arts Department, Lagos State University, Dr. Sola Fosudo, said that when you talk about the film industry, you are in actual sense referring to the cinema. He stressed that he is one of the critics of the home video.
According to him, those who ply their trade in home video production are nowhere to be found, except a few of them, because those that understand what it takes to make cinema films are taking their rightful place in the industry.
Fosudo, further explained that unlike the home videos, films in the cinema format are generally of high quality, with considerably bigger budgets, and production periods that take months, and sometimes even span into years, a far cry from the films in video format, which are usually shot in a matter of days or weeks.
He said: “The people go to location for five days and do what I call television recording, and hurriedly go into the studio to cut it into CDs and then push it out to the market. For that is not film business or industry. When you shoot a film, you take it to the cinema, and when the film might have gone round the cinema for about a month, two or three, you rest it for about six months or a year before you cut it into CD. This will make those who watched the film then and want to keep a copy to buy.
“The real business of film is in the cinema and not in VCD. There is what we call the cinema experience and it is the most interesting not for the producer but for the people who are coming to watch. The cinema experience in so many ways cannot be compared to what you get home. You cannot compare the physical aspect of the big screen in terms of sound, picture and how real the cinema looks to the 12 inches box some people have at home. Most people don’t have home theatre to create some good sound,” he added.
At Ozone Cinema…
By Temitope Makinde and Henry Ekemezie
At the Ozone Cinemas, Yaba, Lagos, Abosede, who spoke with The Guardian said, “I would rather go to the cinema because it has big screens, good popcorns, louder speakers, better quality 3D etc.”
Bisola Afolami, who also shared her experience, said “I think going to the cinema is a much better experience for the extremely large screen, 3D and most importantly, the vast amounts of tasty popcorn!”
Kelvin said, “I love going to the cinema, it’s a good chance to hang out with your mates.”
For Ebere West, “I think it’s better at the cinema because of the sound that makes it feel real.”
Zara also said, “Going to the cinema is a great treat – you get to have popcorn and the screen is bigger. But it is better if you can watch new releases at the cinema instead of waiting until they come out on DVD.”
Another viewer, Amber said, “I’d rather go to the cinema because it’s always fun to go with family and friends. I also enjoy the big screens.”
Hauwa noted, “I think it would be better to watch it at home because you can pause it and you make as much noise as you want.”
As for Chioma Ella, “I love the cinema, and I think that it’s really hard to concentrate on movies at home. I see movies as a day out, not a day in.”
David contributed that “It’s better in the cinema because I have a big family and it’s hard to keep them all quiet when watching a movie at home”
Stanley, a resident of Igando said, “if it was a special occasion, I would prefer the cinema instead of watching at home.”
For Amaka, “it’s fun to sit in and watch films because it is more expensive to get even sweets at the cinema.”
Destiny said, “I think it would be better to watch at the cinema because you can hear it really loud on a big screen.”
While for Zuliat, “the cinema is much better than staying at home because you will have a better experience.”
However, Sophie observed that, “some people don’t get the chance to go to the cinema much, and I’d like to watch a movie on the day of release at home.”
Nigerians Share Their Cinema Experiences
By Tobi Awodipe
Suffice to say, Nigerians have imbibed the culture of watching films at the cinema, with most recording impressive turnouts especially at night and on weekends.
However, watching a movie at the cinema doesn’t really come cheap as tickets for off peak periods cost N600 and N1, 200 especially weekends, public holidays and blockbuster films (which start from 6pm).
For Paul Adedayo and his partner Shade, whom The Guardian spoke with at Filmhouse Cinemas at Leisure Mall, Adeniran Ogunsanya Road, Surulere, Lagos, watching movies in the cinema is a different experience.
“I prefer coming to the cinema because of the big screens. Besides, the picture quality and the sound are better than when I watch it at home; it’s a good excuse to get away from home and change environment. Also, some of the films shown are new releases that haven’t been released on DVD and I always like to watch a new film immediately it is available,” Adebayo hinted.
According to Shade, “I always prefer to watch films at the cinema; it gives me an opportunity to watch with several of my friends, hang out and have a good time. Besides, this is where I met him (pointing at Adebayo) and I have good memories about this place; it’s just better than watching at home,” she noted.
Another cinemagoer, who chose to remain anonymous, lamented the high cost of buying movie ticket in Nigeria.
“The price is too expensive and should be cheaper, especially the peak period price. How many have the time to watch film in the morning or afternoon? If it were cheaper, I might consider it, but for now, I’m satisfied watching at home. I have a very big TV and a nice sound system, so, I believe it is the same thing,” he argued.
But not everyone shared this opinion, including Chinedu, who said, “it’s not just for the film-watching that I come here; the change of environment is very important to me. Seeing different people enjoying what you are enjoying at the same time gives me pleasure. I can easily buy popcorn and drinks at home, but there’s a difference watching at a cinema; I don’t know if it is the screen or sound, it’s just different,” he said.
Food and snacks are also a part of cinema experience and they don’t come cheap. For instance, normal sized popcorn goes for N750, while the jumbo size sells for N1, 200. Small chops and hotdogs cost N700 and N500, while shawarma sells from N900.
Even soft drinks and water cost N200, something Adeola Adewale said is beyond the reach of herself and family.
“I like coming here with my family to have a good time and relax, but the economy these days is saying ‘no.’ Every time I bring my children to watch film, they would start demanding for snacks and drinks and by the time I factor all that in, I’m spending close to N10, 000 already. It is a good experience really, but I have started to limit it. But you can’t compare watching a film here to watching at home,” he said.
At the time The Guardian visited, film lovers were seen buying tickets and snacks, heading to the hall to watch Suicide Squad, which premiered recently.
A young man who gave his name as Samson said he had to come and watch Suicide Squad because of the buzz around the film, which is not yet out on DVD.
“Besides, I was trying to escape traffic and catch up with my friends at the same time. So, I ended up killing several birds with one stone. Though I have a good television at home, I don’t think I would stop coming here to watch movies. It has a different ambience from just sitting at home; I can sit and relax and have a good time with as many people as I want. And believe it or not, it is an affordable luxury that everyone should indulge in once in a while,” he said.
All together, 10 films are being shown at film house, with just three being local films. While this might be an improvement, some respondents said they prefer watching local movies at home, as against the cinema.
“I prefer watching foreign movies whenever I make the effort of going to a cinema because it feels more like a treat. I wouldn’t watch a local movie there when I can easily watch those at home,” Chinyere Eze said.
But her friend Martha disagrees, adding, “if it is popcorn and drinks, I can buy those ones, sit in my parlour and watch. Besides, watching in the comfort of my home gives me the freedom of pausing, rewinding, fast forwarding and so on; things I wouldn’t be able to do in the cinema. I can laugh or express emotions without being worried that I’m disturbing someone else. What else do I want? There is nothing special about going to a cinema and I wouldn’t waste N1 going there,” she said.