Is Silverbird’s demise the end of cinema in Kenya?
I am what you would call a movie buff, meaning, I take my movie watching quite seriously. I am the kind who does the whole hog – the popcorn, the large soda, a nice pre-booked and central location in the cinema to watch – I take movie watching seriously. Its been good in Kenya to be a movie buff for the last decade or so when we first started getting releases coming a few years and then a few months after prime time in other global markets. In the last few years, we have become accustomed to getting movies at the same time they are released in London, New York or Tokyo. In addition, the deluge of cinema halls that opened up over the last decade in Kenya, and especially in Nairobi, have made me and lots of other folks a spoilt lot – we took it for granted. Until now that is.
This week saw the Silverbird Cinema chain in Kenya come to grinding halt. This was covered today in two of the major dailies and over 100 employees are now unpaid and unemployed. The signs were pretty obvious as far back as April 2011 when they stopped bringing in new movies for sometime whilst the competing Fox Cinema chain continued to do so. I will not forget going to the Westgate Mall in Westlands and finding the whole massive Silverbird facility completely shut down last month. Yes, the writing has been on the wall. Silverbird was going down. The really sad thing though is that I believe that most Kenyans (who can afford it?) would rather spend a decent amount of money watching a movie at a good cinema rather than the Kes. 50.00 pirated (and low quality) DVDs that are now available on every street corner in Kenya.
It seems that no one really knows what happened to Silverbird Cinemas in Kenya but the news reports today seem to imply that there was a funding crisis and possibly mismanagement? Their facilities were without a doubt world-class and everyone can attest to the fact it seemed like they were onto a good thing. I have no doubt in my mind that someone, or, some business is going to pick up the pieces, either wholly or partially and revive it. Movie buffs like me will gladly pay the premium and still go to the movies to watch that next big blockbuster, on time, on quality, in wide-screen 2D or 3D. Meanwhile, we will need to contend with fewer cinema screens for the time being, and even fewer movie choices as a result. I certainly hope its not the beginning of the end of cinema in Kenya but it may well be just that.