Once one of the spaces for a perfect date, drawing lovebirds to a cuddly suitable dark room and all the pleasure drawn from the excitement and intrigue the big screen brought with it, movie houses are reeling as new technologies continue to draw clients away from cinemas.
The amazing pictures at the cinemas were complemented by high-quality sound effects, all enticing enough to compel one to return one more time for a visit, whether alone or in the company of friends or their lovers. That was when Harare had not less than 10 movie theatres running at a time, with block buster movies selling out venues. At some point even snacks like popcorn would nearly run out.
Those were the days when watching movies was much more than a pastime, but part of a culture that gave vibrancy to the once Sunshine City.
From the streets one could hear youngsters bragging over their recent visit, while the old embraced the time they spent with loved ones, sharing beautiful memories to be treasured forever. This was before celebrated movie houses like Rainbow City Cinema shut down after failing to catch up to costly new technologies that would have kept people interested.
Now that very movie house at the heart of the city, once a hub of fun, has been turned into an informal market space. Reminiscing, it would seem like tales of many years ago, sadly this was just half a decade ago. Fast-forward to present days, lovers rarely rendezvous in movie houses, preferring “Netflix and Chill”. This is when one pays for a movie on Netflix and invites their partner to come watch with them in the comfort of their home.
Unlike cinemas where, while watching a romantic movie, after emotions are riled, the wickedest that could happen is kissing and cuddling, now most young people prefer Netflix and Chill as it allows them an opportunity for more intimacy, as they will have all the privacy they need.
“At one point we had 10 film theatres running in Harare, now we only have two,” said Nigel Munyati, chair of the just ended Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIIF).
Munyati blamed the shutting down of movie houses on new technologies where movies are readily available soon after their release.
This is through the birth of social media technologies like Kwese Iflix, Netflix and Google movies, where, upon a monthly subscription and a minimal payment for viewing rights, one can access new movies and television programmes from their mobile devices. This, added to the fact that most young people now connect more through social media than human contact, the magic of movie houses has lost its grip.
“Maybe in the future we may have vibrant movie theatres once more,” hopes Munyati.
For Munyati’s dream to one day be fulfilled, movie houses need to build better cinemas that can once more bring back the enchanted. They need to offer something one can never get in the comfort of their homes.
At one time big screens and great sound was the attraction; so came huge television sets, and subwoofers to bring the cinema experience home.
Around the world, new technologies are also used to captivate interest in cinemas. Movie houses, even in the region have been acquiring these new technologies such as the 7D Simulator, an amazing experience which allows one to be involved in the world of virtual reality.
The technology is a perfect combination of 3D images and effects produced by the special equipment upon the human perceptive organs.
One can feel effects such as wind blowing, rain spraying, snow falling lightning blinking, fog simulation, bubble flying , air blowing, leg sweep, seat vibration, and back vibration, to mention a few.
This is expensive technology most people cannot afford to install in their homes. Cinemas in the region, in countries like Zambia, South Africa and Botswana, have been using this to keep interest, but locals only have 3D to offer.
“Movie houses are failing to package themselves to counter emerging trends of movie consumption with some offering outdated films,” said veteran filmmaker Donald Mabido.
Like a parasite that many in the film industry describes it to be, piracy has also taken its toll on the cinema culture, eating at its core, leaving many movie houses finding it hard to break even.
“We have a high influx of pirate DVDs. People now access movies before they are released in cinemas at a cheaper price,” said Mabido.
Movies are downloaded from online platforms on or before the day of release. Some download just to watch in the comfort of their homes and to share with friends. Thanks to unemployment, there are those who download to further distribute as DVDs. These are sold on the streets for as little as 50 cents for a disc containing five movies or even more.
For the cinema culture to be revived, curators need to think creatively and compete with other forms of entertainment that are drawing away the attention of film lovers.
“Creative re-branding is seriously needed which might include synergising other entertainment packages with cinema,” said Mabido.
Instead of flooding local cinemas with Hollywood movies, curators should also consider having local movies showing at all times. This could also generate interest as many local movies are not available in the streets; not until after the official release of a DVD. The only challenge they may have is managing to get enough quality local movies.
In the end, it takes many stakeholders filmmakers, investors and movie lovers included if the culture is to be revived.