When the President allowed malls to open, it was perhaps obvious to cinema proprietors that they were good to go too. But no sooner had cinema goers started getting word, than the cinemas got notice.
In Uganda, many cinemas such as Century Cinemax on Acacia Mall felt the Covid-19 heat before the country. Fewer films were being released since China, one of the biggest markets was in a crisis. Even the audience started reacting.
“People had been reading about coronavirus thus their behaviour started changing,” says Acram Juuko, Century Cinemax public relations and marketing manager.
Three months into the lockdown, the country has started opening up and malls are some of the few that were opened.
For two weeks, Century Cinemax has been screening movies starting at 10am and closing at 5pm. Without new films, they depended on fan favourites of the past year.
According to Juuko, when they decided to open they had to think about ways they are going to comeback, thus they did a survey to find out which films people would like to rewatch.
“We did not want people to come here and watch Netflix films which they can get for less yet Hollywood is not releasing new films,” he says.
Unhinged, Russel Crowe’s latest flick is thought to be the film that will open up Hollywood releases on July 1, sadly though, the film will be opening in Canada. Uganda and the rest of the world can only wait for the film after two weeks.
The best films on the market usually come out in June and July, though December is always the most lucrative month. Juuko, for instance, says in December 2019, the cinema attracted at least 40,000 clients.
In February, with the virus scare, the numbers started falling drastically. Today (Thursday), when they reopened, they had the worst numbers they have ever experienced.
“But this is something we anticipated, of course people are poor but above it all, they have seen all these films probably and don’t want to pay to rewatch them.”
The cinema culture in Uganda has been growing steadily. The cinmea became that place people that did not fancy bars or clubs would spend part of the evening before heading home.
Before the lockdown, The Girl in the Yellow Jumper, a Ugandan film by Loukman Ali had booked the cinema to premiere on April 18. Another film, Kafa Coh by actress and budding producer Doreen Mirembe was gearing for an October release with marketing starting in April.
Both films have since gone silent, observing the situation. Juuko says he had asked Loukman if they could screen his film when the lockdown was lifted but he rejected the idea.
“And I understand his fears, you can’t be sure people will come.”
With Hollywood and the world pausing, anticipated films such as Mulan, Wonder Woman, James Bond’s No Time To Die, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet or Marvel’s Black Widow will be flooding the market in a very short period of time.
Loukman is yet to announce a new date and Mirembe on the other side is still watching to see how things play out.
“It would be safe for a Ugandan film to release in October,” Juuko says, adding that December is not very safe. He adds that January too would be a good month.
Mirembe’s film is a political thriller that was targeting the independence month, because with elections at the beginning of the year, she thinks January is not as safe.
Like all places in Kampala, the cinema on Friday had most of the covid-19 spread measures in check as few people walked into the theatre.
A sanitizer and a temperature check was available, in case we had been more than 14 people in the theatre. We were supposed to use the emergency route for exit and as you can imagine, the seats and room were sprayed before and after the film.
However, even with all the measures, on Friday, the Film Classification Council wrote to cinema operators, noting that even when their businesses are in malls, they should remain closed until they are advised to open.