Cinema enthusiasts and the owner of a small home-made theatre talk about the problem
The popular past-time of going to the movies with friends or with one’s significant other in Abkhazia is practically impossible.
There is not a single movie theatre here. The only alternative is a small, home-made cinema on the outskirts of Sukhum in in an area known locally as the ‘new district’.
JAMnews looked into how it works and why this industry is not being developed in Abkhazia.
Pirated films in a small movie theatre
‘SA-Film’ is a small, one-story, squat-like building without any special signs and is hidden among high-rise apartments built over the past 10 to 15 years. The owner has tried to emphasise the uniqueness of the establishment through its design: the facade of the building is partially finished with blackened pallets.
The building also dons a flag with the emblem of the theatre – SA.
Inside, there are 26 places, and a ticket costs 200 roubles [about 3 dollars]. Here, one can watch pirated films in reasonable comfort, including animated films and football matches.
There’s a bar near the entrance where one can buy cold drinks and popcorn. Almost the same as in a real theatre, but it’s smaller, and, well, verging on the illegal.
“One could say we steal films. We just download them from the internet and we show them on a big screen,” says Said Tania, the owner of the theatre. “The viewer always has a choice: to go see the premier in Sochi, or to wait for it to appear online in good quality and then watch it at home or come to us.”
The screening was at 7 o’clock in the evening, and there were only three viewers. Administrator Saida Berulava said that there are so few viewers because the weather was nice out.
“Everyone’s by the seaside,” says Saida, “Or at a wedding, it’s Saturday after all. At 4pm we had a full house of children. We also show cartoons.”
“On rainy days, especially in winter, the theatre is always full,” says Saida.
At the SA-film theatre, they try to show new films, though it sometimes happens with somewhat of a delay – they are dependent on the internet for downloading films of reasonable quality.
“They often call or write and ask whether we’ll be showing such and such a film which has just come out. But that’s impossible for us,” says Said Tania.
“I have not made any agreemeents with any Russian theatres. It wouldn’t have worked for me because I would then have to buy these films. And nobody makes money on the film itself of course – the main income is from popcorn, drinks and other similar products you sell in a theatre. We don’t have enough ticket sales, or popcorn sales for that matter.”
Local resident Pavel Kakalia only visited the theatre now for the first time since it opened, although it is right next to his house and the theatre has been open for two years.
“I love films from Marvel. When one of their films comes out, I go to Sochi for the premier. You have to see such films on a big screen with good sound. And the atmosphere in a movie theatre is, of course, unique,” he says.
Other films he watches at home because the internet connection is fast enough. He says that he probably won’t repeat the experiment he’s made in coming to SA-Film. He feels more comfortable at home, and of course it’s cheaper.
A meeting place
However, owner Said Tania says that tickets do sometimes sell out and bring in a small income. One of the theatre’s functions is to serve as a meeting place.
Couples often come to SA-Film, but in secret and in different cars. They meet in the theatre hall where they have to keep quiet, and they of course can’t see one another but at least they can be together in one place.
The issue is that young people in Abkhazia, as in old times, are afraid to date and meet one another in public.
We were able to speak with one such couple under the condition that we don’t use their faces or names. The girl says that she is from a traditional Abkhaz family and that her father is very strict, and that’s why she has to meet her boyfriend in a place where nobody can see them together.
“We met in this theatre actually,” says her boyfriend. “And we continue to meet here. I hope that the theatre will operate for many yearsso that we can take our kids here and say that our family started from here.”
As to whether they’d like there to be a real theatre in Sukhum, they both say no.
“Sochi is close enough, you can go there if you really want to. What we really need here is a pool where you can swim all year round.”
One theatre for 250 000 people
There are about 250 000 people living in Abkhazia, of which 80 000 live in Sukhum. In the ‘new district’ where SA-Film is located, there are about 25 000 people.
Why is there not a single theatre in Abkhazia despite the rather large population?
“The whole issue is demand.” says Said Tania. “The number of residents aren’t enough in order to create demand. Neither a theatre nor a recreational center would really be able to stand on its feet with such a low demand, that’s why nobody is investing in such a project.”
Said says that before he decided to open the business, he had to make a choice between a car wash, a vulcanization centre or a regular shop. But then, having spoken with his friends, he decided to open a movie theatre. Moreover, his relatives had a suitable space for it and a good location.
“The ‘new district’ is a residential area. This means that there are many people here who need some sort of recreational activities closer to home. There are no other forms of entertainment here. I decided to open this movie-theatre and I wasn’t mistaken in doing so,” says Said Tania. “I’m happy that the business is moving forward and that people enjoy it.”