Why South Africa is beating Kenya in the Movie-going Culture

A country that shuns the cinema halls cannot flourish in the film industry..


The movie theatre culture in Kenya is not as vibrant as it’s used to be in the 60s to 90s when Nairobi was sprawling with theatres. Piracy in the film industry has contributed to this phenomenon with many Kenyans opting to buy movies at a small fee of Sh50 from movie vendors.

Going to cinema theatres to watch movies is a trend left for the bourgeoisie middle-class Kenyans who may spare a coin to watch a movie at the theatre rather than buy a pirated version from the local movie vendor. This has brought down established cinema businesses in Kenya.

Gone are the days when Nairobi was a host to many cinema halls such as Odeon Cinema, Globe Cinema, Shan Cinema,Embassy,20th Century, Fox Drive-In, Bellevue, Cameo Cinema and Kenya Cinema. These were popular joints frequented by film enthusiasts. Fast forward to today, Odeon Cinema is no more with the name being attributed to the stage where the former was located. Globe Cinema collapsed after it was restrained from further infringement of distributor’s copyrights. Today, what is left of that name is a roundabout in Nairobi. The Cinema hall is now a church. Few businesses such as 21st Century have passed the test of time.

Copyright infringement is a factor overlooked today with most Kenyans buying DVD movies with little or no guilt yet it’s an illegal act which hurts the film industry. Back in the day, infringement of one’s copyright was taken seriously. It was the reason behind closing down of Globe Cinema. Technology has dealt a blow to the cinema culture in Kenya. The innovations in the film industry has caused the death of some iconic theatres which could not withstand the wave of technology. Introduction of online streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime has revolutionized the film scene. Kenyans have abandoned the cinema halls and resorted to cheap (pirated) movies and online streaming.

A country that shuns the cinema halls cannot flourish in the film industry. Movie theatres are converging points for film enthusiasts and filmmakers. Theatres promote film in the society. The culture of attending cinema halls and watching local productions boost the earnings of films. It is open secret that film producers rely on ticket sales to make money. Empty theatres means most films make losses hence the industry’s progress remains stagnant.

India’s Bollywood is the second film industry after Hollywood grossing in high revenue streams and creating job opportunities for many Indians thanks to their culture.

Watching movies at cinema halls is a favourite pastime activity in India with many theatres being located in townships. The country has movie halls in every corner. India has proved to be a force to reckon with in the film scene and its people are behind this success for appreciating their own content and embracing the movie-theatre culture.

The Kenyan government has failed in curbing movie piracy in Kenya with movie vendors cashing in on the preference for cheap movies by Kenyans. Today, some of the popular theatres in Kenya include IMAX Century, formally 20th Century, Alliance Françoise, Planet Media Cinema at Westgate Shopping Mall, Anga IMAX Cinema and, Fox Cineplex at Sarit Centre.

South Africa has one of the most vibrant theatrical scenes in Africa with over 100 active spaces in the country offering music, dance, indigenous drama, satire, classical opera, West End and Broadway hits. State-supported performing art councils, purpose-built theatres and casinos are venues of theatre performances. The country is also host to many festivals such as The National Arts Festival.

South Africans are movie-goers. During the apartheid area, the theatres were venues for championing against the discrimination of blacks and were creative outlets for expression of African artists. One of South Africa’s theatres, Teatro at Montecasino opened up to Lion King, one of Disney’s most popular movies. New theatres have been opening up as young people are joining the theatres as audiences. To encourage the trend, theatres play both South African and imported work.

Theatre studies have been introduced in the school syllabus with a hope that the future generation will migrate from television and online sites back to the theatres. The government is promoting the theatre industry by building performance art halls and bringing theatres to small townships. This is a stark contrast to Kenya where the government is lagging behind when it comes to initiatives promoting the theatre industry.

Some of the famous art festivals in South Africa are Aardklop Arts Festival, Wits Art and Literature Experience and Arts Live in Johannesburg. Festivals also involve movie screenings, definitely a boost to local film producers. Major art theatres are Fugard theatre, Sandton City and Victory theatre.

Getting a movie from your local vendor is cheap but a movie-going experience is a worthwhile effort which promotes local films. From the big screen, massive speaker systems to high definition technology such as 3D, going to the movie theatre is an ideal way of watching movies. The ecstatic audience adds to the thrill of watching a blockbuster movie, the experience itself disruptive.