My accidental tour of Rwanda’s first proper movie theater (opening soon)
This is the story of how I ended up inside Century Cinema, Rwanda’s first proper movie theater, and learned about the complex’s likely opening month and possible first movie to be screened (hint: it’s a Hollywood action film).
It was two weeks ago, my sixth full day of living in Kigali, and I was in Kigali City Tower for the first time. I saw a sign for Century Cinema on the floor above me. Strange, I thought, since I had read there weren’t movie theaters in Rwanda. Curious, I dragged my jetlagged self up a flight of stairs.
A locked gate. A theater lobby still under construction. No people. Darn.
But now I had questions, so many questions. When would this place open? How much would tickets cost? Who built this place and how much did it cost? How many people would be employed here? (Can you tell I used to work as a business reporter?)
I pulled out my camera and shot a few pictures between the gate bars. I could see the concessions area to my right. I waited for someone inside to notice me so I could ask him or her questions. Finally, after about five minutes, a Chinese man walked by.
“Hello!” I said with a wave and smile. He came over and nodded a hello.
“Hi, I’m Laura. Nice to meet you,” I said. “Do you speak English?”
“No English,” he said, shaking his head. He looked tired. Clearly, he hadn’t counted on a strange woman accosting him as he walked through his workplace.
“Do you speak Korean?” I asked in Korean. A confused look from him.
“Do you speak Spanish?” I asked him in Spanish. Another confused look.
I suddenly wished I could be my friend Johanna, who speaks five languages fluently, including Mandarin Chinese (she has other wonderful talents and qualities, too). Not possible, of course, so I decided there was only one question I really wanted the answer to, and I could act it out for the Chinese man.
First, I pointed several times to the inside of the theater. Then, with a great flourish of my arms, I pretended to fling open the locked gate. Finally, I shrugged my shoulders and made what I hoped looked like a questioning, curious expression.
“When does the theater open?” I was asking.
The Chinese man furrowed his brow and gave me an odd look. He called over to someone. A Rwandan man scurried over, unlocked the gate and motioned for me to come in.
Whoa! Not at all what I expected.
As I stepped into the lobby, my first thought was, this will be interesting but I hope this Chinese man doesn’t get in trouble. I wondered why he was letting me in without trying to find out who I was, if I was with the media, and why I wanted to come in (even though I hadn’t been asking to be let in). For the record, I did tell the man and everyone else I met that day – including a building technician/translator who appeared out of nowhere and helped the Chinese man and I understand each other – that I was just a curious foreigner who wanted to know about the theater. I said I wasn’t a journalist and no one was paying me to write anything, but I would publish pictures and information on my blog. I gave my card to several people.
For about 15 minutes, I was allowed to photograph around the theater complex. From a cosmetic point of view, the place looked just about ready to open:
• There are four screening rooms. I checked out the biggest and smallest ones, both of which were adorned with the same colorful carpet (see photo below).
• The largest screening room seats just over 200 people, all in stadium-style seats with cup holders.
• The smallest screening room is a 5-D theater with 18 stadium-style seats. I’d heard of 4-D but not 5-D, so the Chinese man acted out 5-D for me: the seats shake and rock back and forth.
• The concessions area is a nice size. Something that looked like a beverage dispenser sat on the snack counter.
Everyone I met on the accidental tour was gracious and kind, but no one could answer my questions with certainty. Through the helpful technician/translator I met that day, I finally tracked down Colin Kakiza, director of business development for the Doyelcy Group. Doyelcy is the company that owns and manages KCT and Century Cinema. Colin told me the theater will likely open in May.
“Many of the technical aspects of the theater are finished,” he said in a phone call yesterday, “but we might go into April with everything and that’s not the best time to begin showing films. May is what we’re thinking, if we can get the [movie] distribution channels in place.”
(For readers who don’t know, April is when Rwanda holds nationwide genocide memorial events.)
Colin said there’s a “very high possibility” that Iron Man III in 3D will be one of the first movies shown. He expects that all four screens will be showing newly-released movies when the theater opens. Ticket prices haven’t been set yet, he said.
I gather this theater will be popular, especially if it does show first-run movies. Current movie-watching options in Rwanda include huddling around your laptop/desktop or attending a movie-viewing night at a local restaurant that’s projecting a DVD onto a screen. I’ve searched to no avail for statistics on how many proper, commercial movie screens there are in sub-Saharan Africa not counting South Africa (can anyone point me to this data?).
I still can’t believe a miscommunication resulted in my Century Cinema tour. I’ll surely be watching movies there. I just hope they’ll show a few indie films, too, if economics allow for it.