Movies were stepping stones to our education; they broadened our experience and sharpened our street smarts. (Godfrey Chin)
Sunday June 30, 2013 marked the end of an era for the cinema in Guyana. The last known cinema of its kind in Guyana, Astor, has closed its doors. Located at Waterloo and Church Streets and built by the Correia Family in 1946, the owners of the cinema had placed a “For Sale or Rent” sign on the building months before its complete closure.
In the cinematic heyday, if you were a “cinema goer” in Guyana, you knew about donning your “Sunday Best” trying to catch “the show” at the nearest cinema. You would also know and remember the thrills of hand holding and stealing kisses during the shows and you would surely remember the attendants shouting “drinks, drinks” as they carried a case of refreshments from aisle to aisle.
In Guyana, we traded in our fish cake and puri experience at the cinema for the VHS tapes and VCRs and later DVDs.
The impact of sitting at home and watching tapes or DVDs on cinemas in Guyana was felt by cinema owners almost instantaneously. Declining numbers of cinema goers meant fewer shows but rising costs of maintenance, electricity and other bills.
Little was done to recapture those cinema goers and the lack of modern copyright laws did not help. Video clubs made a killing on the rental of VHS tapes, some with recently-released movies and then there was the sale of DVDs on street corners and shops to come later.
Cinemas as Guyanese knew it were going out of business slowly. In other parts of th
e Caribbean, cinemas were redesigned and refashioned to have theatres with smaller crowds and more screens.
Movie-going has nevertheless re-emerged in recent years with two modern centres.
In 2009, social history icon, the late Godfrey Chin, revisited the silver screen and later colour screens that entertained thousands for years across Guyana in his feature The Rise and Fall of Guyana’s Cinemas – first published in the Stabroek News. Chin estimated from his research, Guyana once boasted about 50 cinemas with major film companies having local offices here.
The first cinema in Guyana could well be the Gaiety which was located on Brickdam and Camp Street and was destroyed by fire in 1926. In the early 1990s the most popular were the ones located in the city and in the hub of activities and in close proximity to each other. These were Astor Cinema, Globe, Metropole and Strand, all which could have been visited in less than a 20 minute walk from Church Street to
Then there was Plaza on Camp Street, Liberty on Vlissingen Road and Empire on Middle Street which had the rush for the latest Bollywood hits.
The classic “Gone with the Wind” opened Metropole in March of 1941, two years after it was debuted in North America. Astor Cinema was opened in 1940. Globe opened in 1952 with “David and Bathsheba”, Strand Deluxe opened in 1957 with “Sayonara”.
Liberty on Vlissingen Road was the scene of crowds mostly on weekends as Bollywood movie lovers tried to make their way into the cinema. No weekend jostling outside Liberty or any other cinema was complete without the “horse guards”, police officers on horses who tried to ensure persons kept in line and were orderly.
Bollywood lovers caught and fell in love with movies like Mother India, Sangam, Wagt, Aan to Sholay, KabhiKabhi, Yaadon Ki Barrat and later hits like Taal and Kutch KutchHotaHai.
Chin wrote that all the major film companies had distribution centres in Georgetown. These companies included Twentieth Century Fox/MGM, Warner Bros, Columbia, United Artistes, Universal and Paramount.
In his article, Chin explained that distribution offices stocked huge volumes of promotion materials. These included press books, lobby cards and poster sheets for the large 32 sheet billboards, then were posters of film stars. Any cinema goer would recall those posters branded on bill boards in front of cinemas, the billboards which attracted much debate on which was more appealing.
Chin has suggested that the decline in cinema may have been directly linked to the high cost attached to getting the movies.
He explained that “movies are imports, and commissions ranging from 50% to 75% of the gross revenue from releases, were required to be remitted back to the movie companies abroad, which posed lots of currency problems.”
Other costs included government taxes and those included “preview/censor cost for every new picture.” There is no record of what these costs were. Funds also had to be budgeted for operational and maintenance costs.
Two new facilities have recently emerged in Georgetown and have had positive responses. However, some persons visit the cinema and note that the movies on show could be bought on the city streets, days after they would have been released overseas. Nonetheless, patrons continue to be drawn to the “big screen” of the cinema.
The Pandays, who also own a chain of clothing stores in the city, have opened Avinash Entertainment Complex on Water Street. Two theatres in the complex boast more than 230 seats and show movies every day.
The Princess Hotel and Casino would later open its two theatres with 93 seats each and showing more recently-released movies. It also has a 3D theatre and promises to open a 7D theatre.
MovieTowne Guyana is set to open in Turkeyen on the lower East coast of Guyana. The eight-theatre complex will be the sister of MovieTowne Trinidad and was launched in 2011. Work is said to have begun on 10 acres of land at Turkeyen but that was preparatory site work on the land for the US$20 million investment.
And the Giftland Mall promises to add entertainment to its halls. Also located at Turkeyen is Caribbean Cinemas, a distribution company based in Puerto Rico which is set to open eight “Cineplex cinemas” at that mall.