NDJAMENA: It is still dusty and silent inside the shuttered Normandy, the only real cinema left in Chad and whose last picture show was 20 years ago, but its doors are set to open once again.

Two filmmakers from this war-scarred central African country have taken up the cause of promoting African cinema and rescuing theatres like the Normandy from the decay that has fallen on movie houses around the continent.

“I saw my first movies here... I was nine or 10 years old,” recalled filmmaker Issa Serge Coelo of his youth in the mid-1970s in Ndjamena.

“There was also another movie house, the Vogue. The other theatres closed one after the other.”

In the former French colony ravaged by decades of war and dictatorship, the movie theatres that went dark either became hotels or businesses or fell into ruins.

The Normandy had become “a dump, no roof over the toilets, a grimy place, something awful,” Coelo said of the theatre built in the 1950s.

Standing inside the old movie house, the director of such features as “Daresalam” said watching the Normandy come back to life is something “we never thought we would see in our lifetime.”

The Normandy's revival was financed by the government of President Idriss Deby Itno which gave 1.5 million euros (2.1 million dollars) to the year-long project.

Deby inaugurated the movie theatre in January during Chad's celebration of 50 years of independence from France but it is only this month that it is set to start operating again.

Ironically the closing of movie theatres and the dearth of African cinema was the subject of “Bye bye Africa”, the first feature film in 1999 by Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, the other filmmaker involved in the revival.

Haroun brings some star power to the project after winning the prestigious Jury prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival for “Un homme qui crie” (A Screaming Man).

He has used his celebrity to campaign for African cinema, not only in Chad.

The last movie house closed in Cameroon in 2009 and Senegal has seen the number of theatres drop from 78 to 18 in the past two decades.

In recent years people in major cities like Ndjamena have taken to watching DVDs -- mainly pirated copies from Nigeria of Bollywood films or South American soap operas.

Or else they go to video clubs which show “violent films, not very good quality,” said Coelo.

However the success of Haroun's films may have stirred a pride in African cinema and given his homeland a new image.

At the first showing of his award-winning film in sub-Saharan Africa in Dakar last November, Haroun said he felt in Chad, like “a sudden twinge of conscience”, the importance of cinema.

“At times, there are certain works which draw people around you,” he said, giving the impression that his film had “brought together a nation.”

Coelo says Haroun's fame made the Chadian authorities realise that “winning prizes in a festival is just as important as winning a (sports) championship.”

It could change “the bad image of Chad”, he added.

Starting April the restored Normandy plans to show six diverse films each month -- from America, Europe, India, China, Africa and the Arab world, one of them a children's movie.

Admission to the theatre, which holds 470 people, will be 1,500 CFA francs (about 2.30 euros).

Coelo hopes it will not stop there. He has more dreams for Chadian film -- including renovating more theatres in Ndjamena and starting a cinema school.

“We are very ambitious, we've only accomplished 10 to 20 per cent” of our goals, he said, adding that he wants to get more young people involved in the art of the silver screen.—AFP

Opinion

Digital finance
17 Jan 2021

Digital finance

Raast offers opportunities for inclusion, but is not without risk.
Broadsheetgate
Updated 17 Jan 2021

Broadsheetgate

The competence that has underlined NAB and its actions has cost us dearly now and even in 2008.
Debate on ordinances
17 Jan 2021

Debate on ordinances

The government’s line of thinking indicates a belief in the principle of brute majority.
America in decline?
Updated 16 Jan 2021

America in decline?

In spite of the ‘gates’ that rocked the US, democracy stood firm.

Editorial

Updated 17 Jan 2021

Foreign funding case

THE Election Commission of Pakistan has summoned both the PML-N and PPP on Monday in connection with the foreign...
17 Jan 2021

Vaccine procurement

ALL eyes are on the government as it pledges to roll out the Covid-19 vaccination programme to about 80m citizens by...
17 Jan 2021

Makli ‘renovation’

THERE are fears that the recently conducted ‘renovation’ work carried out at the Makli necropolis may rob the...
16 Jan 2021

Gas liberalisation

AFTER drawing much criticism from both consumers and the opposition over its mismanagement of the energy sector that...
16 Jan 2021

Osama Satti inquiry

THE findings of the judicial inquiry into the Jan 2 killing of 21-year-old Osama Satti in Islamabad merely confirms...
Updated 16 Jan 2021

British MP on IHK

DESPITE sustained efforts by New Delhi’s rulers to remove India-held Kashmir from the global discourse, people of...