24 October 2011

Cameroon: Douala - Cinema Halls Transformed Into Worship Houses

The end of the cinema era has marked an important beginning in the rise of Pentecostal churches in Douala.

Talk of popular Christian worship places in Douala today, and one would quickly refer you to one of the erstwhile cinema halls that have rapidly been transformed into places for spiritual healing and deliverance. This shift of activity appears to support public opinion of an end to the cinema era in the country; a fact also confirmed by Ministry of Culture, MINCULT, officials in Douala.

The demise of cinema halls has certainly brought enormous joy and a sigh of relief to a rising number of Pentecostal churches which for a long time, operated from private homes. These churches use the halls for spiritual events such as crusades and ecumenical services. The halls during week-ends are filled by worshippers rather than cinema clients. For example, the former Cinéma Eden is now a popular hub for gospel crusades in the city.

Before the collapse of the cinema halls such as Cinéma Le Wouri, Cinéma Bonapriso, Cinéma Rex, Cinéma Le Concorde, Cinéma Omnisport, Cinéma Grand Canyon, Cinéma de Berlitz, Cinéma Eden, Cinéma ABC, Cinéma Fouhato, etc, the local film industry witnessed a boom as there were no TV sets, DVDs, VCDs, private TV stations, nor the yet-to-develop local movie industry. In 1980s, Douala hosted about a dozen or more functioning cinema halls; more than any other city in the country. The last to collapse, Cinéma Le Wouri (January 19, 2009), which was also named "The Temple of Culture," was also the main venue for almost all big musical concerts and many other cultural events organised in the city.

A number of reasons have been advanced for the collapse of the cinema halls. They include foreign investors (for example, the French group, Cine News Distribution) who failed to adjust to the changing environment with the rise in local demand for Nigerian home movies. Nigerian productions deal with everyday subjects such as witchcraft and adultery than western-style films featured in the cinema halls. Another cause appears to be the flooding of local markets with cheap video sets, video CDs/DVDs, video clubs and home movie houses that also charge very little fees and project pornographic films that negatively attract young people. They are not officially regulated and their often pirated movies are not censored by any authority. Some feature films suitable only for a specific group and entry for almost all age groups is allowed.

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