African cinema makes a comeback, but Hollywood gets top billing

People sit in the screening room as they wait for the start of a movie at the Majestic cinema in Abidjan. The new cinema complexes tend to give precedence to Hollywood blockbusters rather than films made by African directors. (AFP)
Updated 01 November 2017
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African cinema makes a comeback, but Hollywood gets top billing

ABIDJAN: Like the plot in an old-fashioned movie, cinemas in Africa are making a third-reel comeback after years of worrying decline.
In many countries south of the Sahara, digital technology, strong investment and modern theaters are bringing about a major revival of movie-going, ending years of cinema closures.
But this good news for film-lovers also comes with a drawback: the new cinema complexes tend to give precedence to Hollywood blockbusters rather than films made by African directors.
In the 1980s, a wave of cinema closures began to unfurl across the continent as rundown picture palaces were turned into auto repair shops, supermarkets, restaurants and even churches.
The survivors were a number of privately owned venues and cinemas inside international cultural centers.
Today, continent-wide figures for the industry are sketchy, but cinema owners say the sector is making a comeback. It is being driven by demographic demand and digital technology that provides immediate, low-cost distribution, compared to the expensive business of printing and trucking around reels of celluloid.
“The demand is there,” says Jean-Marc Bejani, the chief executive of the Majestic chain, which has opened three cinemas in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan in the past two years. Next year, Majestic will open three more in the coastal city’s working-class Yopougon district.
A senior manager in the oil industry, Bejani threw himself into the movie business on discovering that there were no cinemas left in Ivory Coast. The success of Majestic’s venture came fast, with 75,000 tickets sold for a single screen in 2015 and 175,000 in 2016 when all three new screens were in use.
“Before this, the movie theaters were old and technically outdated, with films being shown three months later than in Europe,” Bejani says.
“I wanted high definition pictures, with 3D, comfortable seats and films coming out the same time as in France.”
“I come often,” says schoolgirl Marie Benoit, standing in front of the bar selling soft drinks and popcorn inside a Majestic cinema as smart as any European multiplex. The young girl had for years lived in a city with no big screen.
Canal Olympia has applied a similar high-tech approach to its bid to conquer west and central Africa. Since 2016, this subsidiary of global entertainment group Vivendi has opened six cinemas in Cameroon, Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
The group’s aim is to construct several dozen multi-role complexes in the coming years. Work is already in hand to build three new venues in Gabon and the Republic of Congo.
“A middle class is developing in Africa ... with a desire to be entertained,” says Corinne Bach, the head of Canal Olympia.
“It’s a lot of work to get people used to going to the cinema, notably youngsters who have never been before,” she adds. “The first results are encouraging.”
To succeed, Canal Olympia is betting on mixed programming of American, African and European films, notably the productions of the Canal+ Group, another Vivendi company playing a major role in cinema as well as television.
The new venues are intended to host concerts and popular shows, as well as being available to hire as business conference centers, to make the network economically viable.
But in a number of countries, old cinemas are being upgraded or reopened, including half a dozen in the Angolan capital Luanda, the CineKin in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Normandie in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, renovated in 2011.
In Burkina Faso, the poor west African nation that proudly hosts the biennial Pan-African Festival of Cinema and Television (FESPACO), the Guimbi will soon be reborn as a full-fledged cultural center in the second city, Bobo Dioulasso.
In Dakar, a privately owned triplex is due to open, named after Senegalese film-maker Ousmane Sembene who died in 2007. The Senegalese state is paying for “four projects to renovate theaters with digital technology” around the country, according to Hugues Diaz, the culture ministry official responsible for cinema.
On the far side of the continent, in Kenya the renewal of cinema began about a decade ago. The east African nation has some 10 modern cinemas, usually located in shopping malls, in place of the small venues of yore.
South Africa and Nigeria — whose thriving “Nollywood” industry made the 2016 romantic comedy hit “The Wedding Party” — are outstanding exceptions to the rule of past closures.
The rapid progress of the film-making business in the past 15 years in Nigeria has led to the opening of modern cinemas run by several different networks in the biggest towns.
The 130 screens in about 30 venues raised $95 million at the box-office in 2015 in Nigeria, while South African cinemas made $76 million, according to figures from PricewaterhouseCoopers.
In most countries, blockbuster movies from the US dominate releases because they are what makes most money by public demand and “for lack of support from the state,” Bejani says.
Franco-Gabonese director Samantha Biffot bemoans the lack of African films.
“The cinemas need to screen our work, because most African films are only to be seen at festivals or abroad,” she says.
FESPACO official Ardiouma Soma argues that the African taste for movies is wide, from big box-office draws to art cinema.
“The African public likes African films,” Soma says, declaring that the new venues are “an opportunity to be seized.”


Facebook to clearly label political advertising in Britain, CTO says

Updated 26 April 2018
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Facebook to clearly label political advertising in Britain, CTO says

LONDON: Facebook will introduce new measures to boost transparency around adverts in Britain by June this year and require political ads to be clearly labelled, the firm’s Chief Technology Officer told a British parliamentary committee.
In a written submission to the UK parliament’s media committee, Mike Schroepfer said those wanting to run political adverts would have to complete an authorization process and the messages would also have to display who paid for them.
Facebook has said that the personal information of about 87 million users might have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.
Lawmakers have also raised concern over the use of social media in Britain’s referendum decision to leave the European Union in 2016.
“I want to start by echoing our CEO, Mark Zuckerberg: what happened with Cambridge Analytica represents a breach of trust, and we are deeply sorry. We made mistakes and we are taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Schroepfer wrote.
Earlier this month, Zuckerberg apologized to US senators for issues that have beset Facebook, including shortcomings over data protection.
But the 33-year-old Internet mogul managed to deflect any specific promises to support any congressional regulation of the world’s largest social media network and other US Internet companies.
Schroepfer, who was appearing before the British media committee on Thursday, said it was clear Facebook had not done enough to ensure its tools from “potentially being used for harm” or take a broad enough view of its responsibility.
“That was a mistake,” he wrote.