Suggestion Box of Doomed Ideas: Cinema in Syria

 

How are we going to save the decrepit Syrian cinema industry?

How are we going to save the decrepit Syrian cinema industry?

I had intended this for a later post, but I got to thinking about it since so many coffee shops were being overrun by viewers of soccer matches. First, though, some background of the situation as I understand it. In the good old days we only hear about in magazines (like our March 2009 issue of Forward – go check it out!) and old people, movie theaters in Syria were pristine and attended by the echelons of our society, while our artists used the cinematic medium to excellence, expressing issues both deep and entertaining.

 

Somewhere along the line that all disappeared. Theaters became run down as the owners refused to spend the money on renovation, demanding only a pure profit from their continually worsening, decrepit show halls. Attendance was discouraged by the misguided, overzealous rants of the extremist elements within our religious communities, and those who would brave societal disapproval to watch a film were put off by the unsavory elements that came to frequent these run-down halls.

Meanwhile, as theater attendance dwindled, fewer and fewer directors were willing to brave the lack of an audience as well as the restrictive regulations set forth by the Syrian Cinema Organization. Turning more and more to television as an outlet for dramatic release, cinema all but disappeared from the Syrian horizon. Many lament this, but few have any ideas how to change this.

The problem, as I see it, is as follows: first, no one sees the theater as a legitimate arena to hold social functions in; two, because of this, none of the current or potential owners see cinemas as a lucrative investment, discouraging renovation or building projects for these theaters; finally, since directors can see they will have no money and no audience to do any of their projects, they simply won’t waste their time, and whatever cinemas are out there are showing films from abroad.

This is where all those soccer viewers come in. What might not be common knowledge is that, especially in North America, cinemas have a long history of broadcasting sports events (mostly wrestling, but some areas go to live broadcasts of American football games and other sports events). Therefore, broadcasting soccer matches, Olympic events, other sports, and even Bab al-Harra and similar TV programs on a large screen, with good picture and excellent surround sound, in an area with a concession stand only makes sense. Cafés and restaurants have benefitted from it; why shouldn’t cinemas?

As people become more familiar with the theater once again, and start scheduling their social schedule around these showings, owners may be enticed to compete in creating the best viewing space. Some tips from North America, once again; many making new theaters or renovating old ones are daunted by the traditional view of the cinema space as a huge hall with closely spaced seating. This does not need to be so. Many theaters abroad are no larger than a big café with a ceiling two stories high, and some have even created VIP viewing spaces, with comfortable chairs with side tables to hold treats bought at the snack bar.

Those saying that will increase cost of the ticket, in some areas this may be a positive. Remember those unsavory characters? Once cinemas are high brow again, they might shove off. That is also not to say that all theaters need to follow this model, but you must be able to cater to every taste, and these smaller viewing areas might be perfect for another idea from the world of theater abroad: Using the hall as a conference space. Business meetings requiring the best equipment for their power point presentations, private screenings of films on sensitive topics, conferences requiring audio visual finesse, and many other events can be held in theaters. It’s simply a matter of marketing and readjusting the image of the theater.

Now it is the turn of Syrian cinematic endeavors, and in this case, this will either require government aid or private philanthropy. As local directors are all TV-bound, and expatriate directors are simply not thinking along these lines, we need to create a draw to bring creative energies to the fore. What better way, then, than an annual international film contest, rewarding the winning project with a budget and a contract to make a film concerning Syria? I would stipulate that the film be a fiction piece, since we already excel in that regard, and since most documentaries stagnate a film contest as well as bring in low draws. Another rule should be that 70% of all production and acting staff be Syrian as well, allowing for an exchange of skills but further ensuring that it is a SYRIAN production.

The projects from the contest could be an excuse for huge red-carpet type premieres that would draw further attention to Syrian Cinema, and promote investment in other Syrian projects not involved with the contest.

Well, that is it for this installment. Remember, please contact us with your comments and thoughts about this doomed idea, and offer suggestions for future doomed ideas that we could look into and write about. Till next time!

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5 Responses

  1. mmm.. let me think before doing any stupid comment.

  2. That’s a very well thought out plan, but is most likely, as you said, doomed because of the sheer amount of planing and coordination that would require.

  3. I think it’s an excellent idea, Mehdi, to screen sports events and advertise the use for conferences using the screen for power point presentations and the like. Due to the economic climate at the moment, in England they have even started showing live opera at cinemas (meaning it is filmed on stage at the opera) so it can be watched live by people who cannot afford a Royal Opera House ticket. And as for the VIP seating, they do that in my local cinema and although I never personally go for them, with successful films and early screenings, they are always full. It only takes one cinema theatre in a central location to break the vicious cycle that currently seems to dominate.

    In Beirut in ’95 the cinemas were in what sounds like the same state, then a new complex opened with comfortable seats and clean facilities etc, and the other cinemas started to compete. Successful Lebanese films are being made and ‘movie-going’ is one of the main sources of entertainment there.

  4. Your analysis and suggestions for rebooting the theatres and film showing venues is just brilliant and very workable, i think. i can also suggest that many smaller venues, like retaurants with walls that can be screened on, can host a night of film and discussion with finger food and tea or coffee, guided discussion is best.

    when people recall their love for beauty, image, and narrative through teh film and drama and humedy and cathartic or wake up medium of cinema…well there will be a rebirth.
    very important article –may Allah bless you!

    to me Islam is mistakenly copted when it seeks to ban the soul developing and intellect expanding mediums of art and science.

  5. ps SUPER Pix of the abandoned theatre–
    haunting

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