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Exclusive Movie Theatres

Nyumba Cinema at Rosslyn Riviera Mall Nairobi is a Private theatre Experience
Nyumba Cinema at Rosslyn Riviera Mall Nairobi is a Private theatre Experience for you and your exclusive group of friends or family. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG 

About a year ago, Santai Kimakeke wanted to build a movie screening room in his house. He wanted a theatre where he could retreat either alone or with his friends, with all the comfort that he would get from a big screen experience.

He has since invested the money in an exclusive movie theatre instead, where two to 15 people can enjoy a cinema experience in private, complete with Enchiladas ordered from Fonda NBO, a Mexican restaurant nearby.

“I am now happy that small groups of friends and colleagues can enjoy this service. They are actually lining up to watch everything from “Game of Thrones’’, Formula 1 races to international soccer matches,” he says.

As the movie culture evolves and technology allows Kenyans to get content how they want it, where they want and when they want, investors are looking for ways to draw movie-goers back to theatres.

“I created Nyumba Cinema, a 15-seater homely cinema experience to allow Kenyans to watch whatever they want, on a day and time they choose,” he says, adding that technology has helped as some customers book online.

The return of movie theatre culture is encouraging despite its gradual growth.

Mwaniki Mageria, the founder and secretary-general of Riverwood Ensemble Filmmakers Association says the return of the moviegoing culture is amazing. He says over the years several movie theatres like Shan, Odeon and Cameo Cinemas closed down, partly due to insecurity in the city.

“In the late 80s and early 90s, it was unsafe to walk to the movie theatres. You would either get mugged, arrested or slapped by rogue police officers,” he says.

“Then piracy of movies killed what was left of the film industry with counterfeit CDs and DVDs,” he adds. As the theatre market stagnated, Mr Mageria says, movie in digital formats became an ultimate pastime as many Kenyans preferred to enjoy alone time from the comfort of their homes.

“While it is great, it has also contributed to too many sad and depressed people bingeing on the couch as an anti-social pastime,” he says.

With niche theatres bringing in better experiences and movies such as “Fast and Furious”, “Black Panther” and “Avengers”, the likes of IMAX Kenya, Planet Media and Anga at Sky Cinema are growing their revenue and numbers.

Joseph Kilonzi, a manager at Westgate Cinema in Nairobi says they have seen growth of almost 30 per cent in their theatres in recent months.

Nyumba Cinema

Nyumba Cinema. NMG PHOTO

“Many more people are choosing to enjoy an ‘out of home’ experience as a family unit. “Avengers’’ movie, for example, saw movie theatres fully booked for a whole month and movie fans had to line up and wait for days to secure seats,” he says.

In Nairobi, he says, Bollywood movies are popular than Hollywood titles.

Mexican food or cappuccino

In a market that is struggling to lure back movie-goers, private screening rooms located in shopping malls or gated-communities may be where growth is.

Jackline Wambugi, one of the customers who has been to Nyumba Cinema, says what excites her most is that she can choose from a wide selection of TV series, comedies and documentaries from Netflix, Amazon, Showmax or DStv.

Nyumba Cinema, which is attracting families, groups of friends and sports fans, also affords someone the luxury of drinking a cappuccino, milkshake or wine instead of eating the conventional popcorns. Trushna Patel, of Crimson Multimedia, says despite the marginal growth, she is frustrated that Kenya does not have a consistent supply of decent films from local producers that can be screened in movie theatres.

She says if the local filmmakers improved their quality they would be successful.

“If the quality of storytelling, cinematography, editing and production was upgraded, Kenya can compete with what is coming from foreign distributors in a few years,” says Trushna, adding that much also needs to be done to improve the public’s appetite for the movie theatre in Africa.

Crimson Multimedia is one of the leading film distributors in Kenya and has seven theatres in Nairobi, 14 in Nigeria, four in Tanzania, six in Uganda, two in Ghana and one in Rwanda.

“The moviegoing experience could also be improved to make it an amazing and affordable outing for the family of average income and means. It currently costs between Sh800 to Sh1,500 per person to see a movie during the peak days like Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Most Kenyans cannot enjoy this luxury,” Trushna said.

Nyumba Cinema

Nyumba Cinema. NMG PHOTO

However, there are Kenyan films that have left a mark in the industry like “Nairobi Half Life,”, “Subira”, “Disconnect”, “Rafiki”, “The First Grader”, “World Tofauti”, “18 Hours”, “Watu Wote” and “Supa Modo”.

Another challenge for many Kenyan producers even as the multi-billion shilling industry extends its tentacles to benefit tourism, advertising, marketing as well as film production, is that they are breaking even.

“Kenya needs to position itself as the attractive film destination that it is to global filmmakers. More importantly, incentives need to be put in place to encourage local production. As a start, this means bringing down the taxes on film production equipment,” Trushna added.

Appie Matere, an awarding winning local producer says to spur the local film industry, Kenyans need “training, training and more training.”

“This will improve the quality of storytelling by local producers. Another challenge is financing and distribution. While there has been a huge increase in the production of local films, the marketing and distribution is affecting how Kenyan films are received both locally and abroad,” she said.

However, even with better movies, local producers lack partnerships that would spur sales.

The film industry is hugely commercialised and several international brands have etched themselves into the minds of consumers through movies.

For instance, the iconic Bumblebee in the “Transformers: Age of Extinction” made Chevrolet Camaro from General Motors recognisable and its sales grew. Then there was BMWs in “Mission Impossible” and others.

Mr Mageria, who is working to grow the local industry, is optimist that soon, actors such as Nini Wacera and Chris Kamau will be mentioned alongside legendary actors like Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan from Bollywood and Dwayne Johnson and Tom Cruise in Hollywood.

“Because the industry is still in its infancy, we must all consciously seek ways to create a transformative landscape that will help foster the entrepreneurial spirit in creative industry,” says Mr Mageria.

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