By G9ija

The Nigerian film industry is facing imminent collapse as a result of loss of revenues following the continued lockdown of the sector that barred large gatherings since March 30, this year, as part of efforts to control the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

This has put operators, comprising cinema exhibitors, distributors and employees in dire straits, with stakeholders estimating that the industry has lost about N50billion in the last five months.

But as government continues to ease restrictions on several sectors of the economy, stakeholders in the industry, particularly the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria (CEAN), argued that they should be allowed to reopen their businesses.

They made the call at a stakeholders engagement organised by the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) last Thursday in Ikeja, Lagos.

While making reference to the recent resumption of local flights, the stakeholders noted that a flight from Lagos to Abuja takes 50 minutes, while Lagos to Yola takes two hours and 30 minutes, the same running time for some movies.

They further noted that an air traveller is expected to spend a minimum of three to four hours in a domestic trip, which consists of arrival at airport, ticket purchase, boarding, flying and exiting the aircraft, the same hours a customer could spend to watch a movie at the cinema.

Speaking with The Guardian after the engagement, held at Suru Express Hotel, Chairman of CEAN, Patrick Lee, lamented that the lockdown has a depressing impact on Nigerians, which could only be cushioned by allowing people to ease off at leisure centres with well-defined safety measures in place.
  
Lee, who also is the General Manager of Ozone Cinemas, stated that six of the cinema exhibitors in the country were facing the possibility of bankruptcy, adding: “We are talking to the government and hoping that they allow us to open, as most sectors of the economy have resumed business operations. So, they should let us open, else some of us would face bankruptcy.”
  
He noted that over 60 countries around the world have opened their cinemas in the past one month and not a single case of COVID-19 has been linked to the cinemas.

According to him, CEAN has outlined 10 safety protocols in accordance with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines that would efficiently enhance cinema operators to mitigate the spread of the disease while receiving customers at the movie theatre.

“We are assuring government and the audience that we have a safe environment. We are working with all the stakeholders to ensure that the cinemas are safe,” he added.

Regarding the impact some of the protocols would have on the business, such as opening of the window for cross ventilation, which would not give the audience the cinema feeling, Lee explained that cinema theatres are constructed in such a way that they do not have windows, stating: “So, what we tend to have are fire exit doors, which we would open in-between shows to allow fresh air to come in. But to open the windows when a movie is showing is not going to happen.

“What we are suggesting is that it is the same ventilation systems that the malls use that the supermarkets and shops in the malls also use, and if they are considered safe and allowed to open, ours is not going to be any different.
  
“We have big halls, some 100, some 200-seat capacity. We will ensure that only 50 per cent occupancy capacity is maintained in each of these halls. Before the pandemic, most cinemas operated on 30 per cent capacity. It means only 30 or maximum of 50 people go in to see a movie at a time.

“We believe the social distancing protocol will allow for the cinema to be a safe environment for the audience or customers.”

He further noted: “While watching a movie, you are basically looking straight, you are not talking to anybody throughout the showing; you are not eating, but wearing your facemask and where you are eating, you take the mask off and put it back after the food or snacks. So, there is no interaction within the movie itself.

“In our lobby areas, we have provided safety areas and ensure that the cinemas are safe when customers come in.”
 
Also speaking, Co-founder of Filmhouse Cinemas and FilmOne Distribution and Production Company, who is also the Secretary of CEAN, Moses Babatope, said the five-month lockdown has been very challenging and the impact on cinema businesses started since the beginning of the year.
 
He said: “Traditionally, January slows down after December heavy spending and for us in the cinema sector, December is usually a good period for our businesses.

“So, we were just coming off January and getting better when we got the index case of Coronavirus in February. This affected cinema attendance, as people started getting worried about their safety.

“In March, attendance dropped astronomically and with the rising cases of the virus in the country, it was only inevitable that the country was going to shutdown to curtail the pandemic, which happened in March.

“We are in August now, two-third of the year is gone, no income or revenue. Jobs have been lost. Some of our critical infrastructure have been affected. It has really been challenging and very painful, more painful in the sense that most businesses have been allowed to resume activities, but the cinemas are not allowed, even though similar businesses like ours, such as the aviation sector, have resumed.”
  
Babatope said between N5billion and N6billion has been lost, in terms of revenue from ticket sales, refreshments and advertisement, saying: “In terms of investment, we are looking at over N20billion that is at stake, and in terms of the wider film industry, a number of productions (high-scale productions) could not happened. Summing this up, we are looking N50billion loss.

“Nollywood, as we are made to understand, produces about 50 movies per week, second only to India’s Bollywood and more than Hollywood in the United States. In the heat of this lockdown, little or nothing has happened. Now, little by little, productions are resuming, but the cinemas are not opened,” he bemoaned.