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THE DILEMMA of Cinemas In Ghana: Why Are They Still Shut?

By Arnold Asamoah-Baidoo

Corona virus did more than take lives; it closed cinemas too!

Before the pandemic, the film industry in Ghana was teetering, lacking proper infrastructure, legislation and financial support, yet, it was surviving – providing jobs for many, plus employment opportunities for others at the cinemas.  Covid-19 shut all down completely.

Unlike other countries across the world, the not-too-extensive cinemas in Ghana remain shut down. In the last address by the President, H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo, the expectation of stakeholders within the film industry, cinema operators and cinema lovers was quite high but that feeling was burst when the President announced the continuous closure of cinemas.

Intriguingly, pubs, restaurants and bars have been operating for months, a situation that confounds and to an extent, riles up some cinema and movie apologists.

What’s happening across the World?

Once a source of collective entertainment and escapism – cinemas across the world are now seen as petri dishes for the virus. Regardless of the effects, cinemas across some developed countries with well-structured cinema culture have eased restrictions and opened cinemas.

Most of the cinemas across the world have opened in the last couple of months, not to a boisterous reception but obviously better than nothing.

Most cinemas in the United States are opened, including operators of highest number of theatres across the world, AMC, which welcomed movie-goers back into the cinemas way back in July.

In Europe, most countries opened their cinemas including 95 percent of cinemas in France, which were reopened in June, and the market saw a less than 10 percent month-on-month fall during the first weekend of the opening, despite a lack of a strong supply of new films, igniting hopes for the battered industry.

In Italy, one of the countries that was heavily hit by the virus, opened cinemas steadily, starting with close to 40 cinemas, where officials studied the impact before allowing more theatres to open to the public.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, cinemas have been allowed to open since July 4 under a phased plan to return to work, although there are still around 1,000 new COVID-19 cases a day. 50 cinemas opened on their opening weekend, just nine percent of the country’s total, increasing steadily along the line.

What’s happening in Ghana?

The situation in Ghana is simple; cinemas remain closed!

It is mind-boggling how pubs and bars across the country are inundated with revelers constantly since the easing of restrictions on such hang-outs. It must be said that some of these hang-outs do not even adhere to safety protocols and many, if not all patrons, do not wear masks and do not abide by social distancing.

Word has it that, the government is willing to open the cinemas but lacks the assurance from cinema operators with regard to the compliance to safety protocols including social distancing, provision of water, soaps for the washing of hands and the constant disinfection of the halls after every showing.

According to sources, some of these directives, especially the regular fumigation of the halls every two (2) hours is something that sounds laborious and expensive for such operators.

There’s also the case of economic viability. The operators are analyzing the cost of resources that would be pumped into the compliance of safety protocols as compared to the estimate of revenue that could be generated. To them, the prospects of re-opening with regard to economic gains look bleak.

While the resumption of cinemas would be good news for all movie lovers, the reality is far from rosy. It is understood that some cinema operators are still taking a wait-and-see approach to things before they make their decision.

The Swedish Report

The Scandinavian State of Sweden has such an interesting tale in the midst of the pandemic.

While movie theatres across the globe, from China to the US, were shut down during the coronavirus pandemic and arguments erupted as to how and when to reopen, Sweden was never nonplussed as its cinemas remained open all along.

Operating under new government guidelines with 47 cinemas and about 200 screens, the country’s second-largest cinema chain, Svenska Bio stayed operational – and as a result, became Europe’s biggest operator by Box Office revenue.

New rules meant no more than 50 people in the auditorium and by choice, the operators’ halved theatrical occupancy. Hand sanitizing, washing and social distancing were paramount in the adherence to safety protocols.

The Way Forward

There’s little evidence establishing movie theaters as a source of outbreaks, even before social distancing practices were widely implemented. While that doesn’t mean they carry no risk, public health experts say the likelihood of contracting the virus while movie-going is probably lower than that of many other indoor activities.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, a renowned facility in the US says that, in a setting where we’re not talking, we’re just passively breathing and wearing masks, it might be a safer bet than a noisy, crowded bar. The facility continues to state that, at movie theaters, if you’re not eating popcorn, you’re just sitting there with your mask on.

It adds that, because theatergoers all face the same direction, that, too, reduces the chances of person-to-person transmission, as long as they’re still social distancing.

In a bid to open, cinema operators in Ghana and the government can dialogue and must reach a consensus to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ with the opening of cinemas – ensure that patrons are safe and cinema culture and the film industry are resuscitated.

Ghanaian cinema operators can learn a thing or two from other countries that have operational cinemas while sticking to safety protocols.

For example, cinemas in Canada require moviegoers to purchase tickets in advance on line. In France, attendees are required to wear masks in public areas until they are seated, and they are required to sit separately. On top of that, epidemic prevention information is shown on the screen before the film starts. In South Korea, food is not allowed in theaters, seating capacity is capped at half, masks must be worn, and attendees’ temperatures checked. Meanwhile, in Singapore, a cinema hall can only have a maximum of 50 people, and a distance of a meter must be kept between different groups of moviegoers.

While things look to be moving at a glacial pace, filmmakers can be generally optimistic about the prospects for the industry’s recovery. The resumption of cinema could be the first step, as regaining the confidence of movie-goers as a return to the pre-pandemic market may require more time.

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