Muireann taking photos in Uganda


Mac Cool's Uganda Letter

Photographs and Stories by Muireann Mac Cool


B l o g

The Cinema's Last Showing

07 Sep 2006

Wilson Road Cineplex closes its doors for the last time.

It's 7pm in the evening and Wilson road is semi deserted. Although in the heart of downtown Kampala the buzz appears to be happening somewhere else. A faint hum of music from elsewhere can be heard. Fx and I are heading towards the only real attraction- an old cinema to watch the sequel of “Pirates of the Caribbean”. A few boda bodas dart up and down the empty street and a solitary man squats outside the entrance selling second hand shoes laid out on the pavement. A more than usual dreary air hangs over the cinema building as all the light boxes, bar one, have been removed from the cinema wall leaving a square layer of blue paint with murky mud stains. The remaining light box shows a poster of our film.

A middle-aged muzungu man approaches the ticket box. He’s looks like one of those oddities that knocks around in forgotten places like Wilson road. He’s wearing a pair of tatty Bata flip-flops and stained white jeans. The muzungu inquires about the showings as the paper had advertised some other movie. “They’ve decided to show only one,” he repeats the cashiers words again hoping this time they will make more sense. I can’t hear her response but he shrugs and says “oh!”

A small crowd of no more than twenty people begin to buy tickets and enter the foyer. The light boxes from the interior and exterior lean against the mirrored wall. The muzungu is at the top of the queue but insists that we order ahead of him because his order is more complicated. I may have looked perplexed thinking how hard can popcorn be when he added “Where else can you the staff to run down to a bar down the street to get you alcohol to have with your coke?” I notice now that the fridges are mostly empty and there is not much popcorn in the machine. “Do you have pepsi?” he asks. “No crest and coke only” FX and I order a coke and the muzungu continues to chat away. “They are closing the place, the writing is on the wall. Do you have a cup that I can pour this into?” The assistant replies meekly that there are no cups either” “I’ll have a bounty please, can you believe it? Where else in the world are they going to serve me booze in the cinema? They won’t in Garden City (Cineplex), I’ve tried and they get very awkward and embarrassed with you”.

Yes, where else? Where else can you watch trailers with no sound? Where else would your film stop half way through because electricity is cut off? Where else can you stumble into the theatre half killing yourself with blindness? Where else will you see a watercolour of Bruce Lee being the only decoration on the wall? Where else will you see a film for only E3.50 on the discount Tuesday?

“When are you closing?” I ask. “Tonight, we don’t think we’ll bother showing the 9.45,” the assistant answers “We put announcements on the radio”. A couple of us begin to get really nostalgic and regretful and sort of upset because we’d no idea we were coming to the closing night of a cinema. For me, a complete film buff, I always feel gutted when a cinema closes and to just be hit like that with no warning. “What about your jobs?” another pipes in. “Well they said they are opening two more screens at Garden City (making it four in total in the whole country) in two months time.” I pressed the question further but he had no other answer and he kept repeating that same thing again and again.

We sat down to watch our movie and it seems the projectionist wanted the night to be over so he started the film silently in the middle. The projector twitched, clicked and hummed into action. Wrong reel. Quick change. The right reel but no trailers. After a minute of silence I ran downstairs to ask them to turn on the sound and pop the movie back to the beginning. I returned to the screen when Keira Knightly was kneeling in her wedding dress in the pouring rain. That was the only poignant moment that linked the closing of the cinema with the movie. We spent the rest of the movie laughing our heads off so we left the cinema in an elated mood.

After nine years of business Cineplex Wilson Road closed it’s doors. Development in my mind conjures up images of lots of cinemas in Uganda but despite having two in recent years now Uganda is back to having only one cinema. Wilson Road won't become a parking lot but it is rumoured to becoming a supermarket!

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