With airlines now operating, Nigerian cinema exhibitors, distributors and employees have sent an urgent save-our-soul (SOS) message to the Federal Government, and President Muhammadu Buhari, urging them to speedily open the theatrical sector of the economy, including the film industry, to prevent what it termed ‘their imminent collapse’.
The association said the theatrical sector of the economy had lost over $50m (N22.5billion) and more than 5,000 industry jobs since the Federal Government imposed the lockdown in March, as part of its efforts to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
The Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria, CEAN, made the appeal at a meeting held recently at the Lagos State Safety Commission, LSSC, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.
Although CEAN acknowledged government’s effort to re-open the economy, with emphasis on prioritising the safety of Nigerians, it observed that it was also “expedient to consider the huge economic disaster brought upon this very important sector by the continued suspension of cinema operations and other film-based businesses” in the country.
At a media briefing that followed the meeting, the association also revealed their post-COVID-19 plans and how they intend to conduct their businesses in line with established health protocols once the sector is re-opened.
The CEAN chairman, Mr. Patrick Lee, lamented the enormous financial loss suffered by the Nigerian film industry, due to the continued suspension of cinema operations, and the theatre in general as a result of the lockdown.
CEAN said the Industry, which went into a free fall consequent upon the lockdown imposed on the country on March 30, 2020, faced possible extinction.
It recalled that the industry, reputed to be one of the biggest (based on the number of films released), was, pre-COVID-19 pandemic, producing an average of 50 films weekly, accounting for over ₦N200 billion in yearly revenue.
Lee said, aside from providing over one million jobs per year, the industry ranks as one of the highest employers of labour in the country, second only to the agricultural sector.
“Over 250,000 workers, some of whom are directly employed by 58 taxpaying cinemas in the country have been furloughed,” CEAN said. “Recent multi-million dollar investments, like MX4D, IMAX & 4DX theatre halls with heavy technical equipment, have been left to deteriorate; international/local creditors and investors are crying out for their money; production of films has been suspended, consequently resulting in joblessness and huge debts for Nollywood professionals. In 2019, the sector grossed over N10 billion in box office earnings alone, with estimated total revenue of ₦N35 billion.”
The association, therefore, added everything and inferred that “the most rational treatment from the Federal Government should be to include cinema and allied services in all possible financial interventions.”
The association drew a parallel between the Federal Government’s decision to re-open domestic flights on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, and submitted that a critical evaluation of operational processes would reveal similarities between airports and cinemas.
“A domestic flight from Lagos to Yola takes two hours, 30 minutes, which is the same running time for all movies,” the association argued. “Likewise, each customer is expected to spend a minimum of three to four hours for a domestic flight which consists of arrival at airport, ticket purchase, queuing, waiting, boarding, flying and exiting the aircraft; the same hours per customer processes can be likened to cinema visitor.
“Therefore, it is only more logically justifiable to classify cinemas alongside aviation (in prioritising resumption), rather than with the hospitality sector, consisting businesses such as event centres, hotels, and bars with almost very different processes.”
The CEAN submitted that the only way to checkmate the psychological impact of the lockdown on Nigerians was to allow people to let off steam at leisure centres with well-defined safety measures in place.
Lee assured that his organisation had mapped out 10 safety protocols, in tandem with NCDC guidelines, that would efficiently help cinema operators to combat the spread of COVID-19 while receiving customers at the movie theatres.