By Joe Dinga Pefok
Le Wouri, the only cinema hall that existed in the nation's economic
capital, Douala, in the last couple of years, was abruptly closed down
on January 19.
Cinema Le Wouri: The last of the Cameroon big screens
The reason for the closure was not immediately clear, as even the
Manager of the cinema hall, Bernard Sa`ar, would not comment.The next
day, January 20, the lone cinema hall in Bafoussam, L`Empire, was also
reportedly closed down.Barely a couple of days earlier, Cinema Abbia in the nation's capital, Yaounde had been shut down.
All the buildings of the three cinema halls were owned by the Victor
Fotso Group, but were run by a French group, Cine News Distribution.In
the case of Cinema Le Wouri, The Post gathered that posters had, as
usual, been put up in the morning of January 19, for the regular 6.30
pm films on Mondays.
But at about 5.30 pm, workers of the cinema hall and other
onlookers, including movie fans, who had arrived early for the show,
were dumbfounded when they saw the main entrance of the cinema hall
sealed with chains.Many Douala inhabitants believed the hall was sealed
by the land lord and not by the proprietor of the cinema, Cine News
Meanwhile, the three cinema halls recently closed down were the only
ones that had remained operational across the country.Their abrupt
shutting down, for unknown reasons, marks the end of an era for cinema
halls in the country.
The Case Of Douala
The abrupt closure of Cinéma Le Wouri rendered its workers jobless.
Also, dozens of businesses which, for years, operated outside the
cinema hall suffered.Petty traders who used to sell items like
biscuits, sweets, ice cream, chocolate, pop corn, as well as call box
operators were forced to relocate.
Records have it that Douala alone used to host about half or even
more of the number of cinema halls in the country.In the 1980s, Douala
used to count about a dozen or more functioning cinema halls. These
included Cinéma Omnisport, Cinéma Grand Canyon (was owned by late Fayez
Olabi of Kumba), Cinéma de Belise, Cinéma Eden, Cinéma Rex, Cinéma
ABC, Cinéma Fouhato, Cinéma le Wouri and Cinéma Bonapriso.
But, over the years, the cinema halls started collapsing one after
the other. A number of reasons have been advanced for the collapse of
the cinema halls. But one of the major causes appears to be the
flooding of our markets with cheap video sets and video CDs.
There are also video clubs, which do not only readily screen
anything, especially pornographic films that attract the young ones,
but charge very little entry fees, with some even receiving FCFA 25
from kids. Then there are TV stations that broadcast a variety of
films, including the crowd pulling Nigerian movies. Then there are
cable distributors too, with their rates dropping lower by the day.
It should be noted that in the early 80s, there was no TV in
Cameroon and cable distributors were non-existent. Video sets were a
rare thing. Cinema halls were thus, the only place to go watch films.
Today, the situation is very different. There are TV sets even for less
than FCFA 50.000. Video sets go for less than FCFA 25.000, while there
are pirated Video CDs (films) which sell for as cheap as FCFA 300.
In such a situation, few people are willing to go to cinemas,
especially when the rates of the tickets generally remain high.Most at
times, tickets were sold at FCFA 2000 each at Cinéma Le Wouri.
Meanwhile, the reference to Cinema Le Wouri as "The Temple of
Culture" by Cine News Production was not an exaggeration.The cinema
hall was also the main venue for almost all big musical concerts and
many other cultural events organised in Douala.
It was also well located at the centre of town, Akwa, and thus
people could attend shows there and leave late at night without
inconveniences in a town with very high insecurity.
The closure of the cinema hall is thus a big blow to organisers of musical concerts in Douala, as it is certain that there is presently no suitable alternative.
It should also be noted that all the buildings of the other former cinema halls are today mostly being occupied by Pentecostal churches as is the case with former Cinéma Eden, while others have been transformed and rented out to business people like is the case with former Cinéma Belise today occupied by Chinese businessmen.