A few months ago, Sierra Leone moved up in the world, with the introduction of the country's first and only cinema. The Lagunda complex, built, most likely, in the 60s or 70s, appears to hold a hotel, a nightclub for the country's elite, and a theatre. The theatre has a stage but, more importantly, has been layed out like a proper cinema, some 20 rows of chairs, 25 or so to a row, facing the stage and, behind that, a large white wall which can be used for projecting films.
So now, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 'Cruzer cinema' uses the theatre to show films.
Shortly after they started, being skeptical as to the source and quality of the films shown, this is, after all, a country where one of the roving street sellers' hot commodities are homebrew CD compilations, as well as the obligatory illegal Chinese DVD bootlegs, I asked what format they get their films in. Digital projection? Actual film reels? LCD projection? The answer I got was more telling for what it wasn't saying, claiming that they used whatever technology required to show the films they were putting up, using film, digital or LCD projectors when necessary. Now, as this is a country where dead chickens, ready to be grilled, are imported, only to get stuck at customs for months, claiming you can get actual film reels into this country is like claiming you got proof of extraterrestrial existence which, temporarily, you are not just quite ready to share with the world.
And, indeed, for watching Suckerpunch, the LCD projector had been hooked up with a Windows laptop, which had VLC running to show us the film, which, very tellingly, had been cut up into two files, the switch being obvious roughly halfway through the movie.
Cutting up digital videos like this is done to create files that are under 750MB, so that you can have one movie fit on two CD-Roms. Obviously, this is not done by studios, but by the aforementioned Chinese, and other, pirates, requiring cheap and easy distribution methods.
Indeed, we were watching a bootlegged, though luckily not cammed, copy. Strangely, before the film started, we were treated to movie trailers for other films showing this weekend at Cruzer. They apparently took the time to download the trailers. Perhaps to promote their own films, or perhaps to make the whole experience more cinematic.
The showing was pleasant enough. The projection was a tad out of focus, but it's hard to determine whether this was due to the LCD projector, or because of a slightly dodgy copy that was being projected. There's even popcorn on sale and a proper usher, with wind-up flashlight, showed us to our seats.
When Cruzer started operating, they tried to get away with 40.000 Leone cinema tickets, about 9 USD. A total joke, them clearly not realizing their biggest challenge would be to convince the more affluent Freetonians that spending money on watching a movie could be worth it, even though you can buy the same movie on the street for a few dollars which allows you to watch it as many times and with as many people as you see fit, and then pass it on to whomever.
Wizening up, Cruzer quickly introduced 'two for one' tickets and now, it seems, the price of the evening shows has permanently been reduced to 20.000 Leones.
Not that, it appears, this has helped them much, yet. The three of us were the only spectators. I'm sure their operating costs are low, but I did expect that their constant promotion of the cinema on the city's unofficial web forum as well as having posters all over town, would have resulted in a somewhat larger turnout.
But they're trying. Cruzer this week announced they now also have a book exchange on the premises. So I brought the book I had finished the same day, finding the book exchange to consist of 6 kids' books and as many run of the mill crime thrillers. As book are something of a luxury item in Salone, as the closest English bookshop is probably Timbooktoo in Banjul, Gambia (for French books you probably would be able to go to Abidjan, Ivory Coast). I obviously didn't leave my book behind.