Filmmakers to smile soon as Zanzibar prepares to reopen old cinema hall

ZANZIBAR: ALTHOUGH the majority of youths love to watch movies, they don’t know much about cinema halls as they have not experienced them. Only a few have learned about cinema halls through stories from elders or teachers at school.

Like in many countries in the past, in Zanzibar, cinemas were central to the community across generations and provided mass entertainment. However, cinema halls were later closed down due to various reasons, mainly globalisation perpetuated through advancements in science and technology which enabled the presence of ‘cinema halls’ in homes (television), computers, and later in smartphones.

The majestic cinema hall, built in 1921, became idle in the 1980s. Now, it is earmarked for reopening after major refurbishing, thanks to UNESCO, through the generous support of the Government of Japan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The UNESCO/Japan/Saudi Arabia collaboration aims to initiate a crucial rehabilitation process for the Majestic Cinema and create the only indoor venue for cinema, theatre, and music in the Stone Town of Zanzibar, a World Heritage site since 2000.

Ms Munira Humoud from ‘Reclaim Women Space, Zanzibar,’ is coordinating the launching event to take place later in May of this year. She says that the rehabilitated cinema and theatre will be converted into a hub for cultural creativities to contribute significantly to social and economic development.

She says the hub will offer an essential indoor venue for three important festivals hosted in the Stone Town of Zanzibar every year, namely the music festival “Sauti za Busara” (attracts over 20,000 visitors), the Zanzibar International Film Festival – ZIFF (attracts over 7,000 international visitors and up to 120,000 local guests), and the Jahazi Literary and Jazz Festival (several thousand visitors).

“Similarly, other upcoming events, such as the Seafood Festival and Wedding Festival, would add to the use of indoor venues as a purpose-built Cinema and Cultural Hub. In addition, the theatre will also serve as a platform for knowledge exchange and training between heritage professionals on different aspects of state-of-the-art conservation practices,” Munira says.

As such, she says, the Majestic Cinema will also be a Centre of Art education for the youth to ensure their immersion in cultural and creative industries, positioning it as a catalyst for sustainable socio-economic development.

The UNESCO project for the Rehabilitation of the Majestic Cinema aims not only to restore the physical structure but also to unlock the latent socio-economic potential within its walls.

The Government of Japan (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan-MOFA) fund and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Creating a Sustainable Heritage Ecosystem for Socio-economic Development in Africa) agreed to support the project as part of the implementation of the UNESCO Operational Strategy for Priority Africa (2022- 2029) and its Flagship Programme, “Fostering Cultural Heritage and Capacity Development.”

This project intends not only to strengthen African institutions, empowering them to safeguard African heritage, but it also pursues the ambition of pioneering the development of a sustainable heritage ecosystem in Africa through the integration of different cultural and creative industries in heritage conservation and promotion practices, advancing socio-economic development for the benefit of local communities living in and around World Heritage properties, especially women and youth, who represent 60 percent of the African population.

This initiative aspires to breathe new life into the Majestic Cinema, transforming it into a vibrant space that harmonizes the preservation of cultural heritage with the aspirations of a thriving and inclusive community.

The outcomes of this project in Zanzibar can serve as a valuable blueprint for numerous African countries, including Kenya, Eritrea, Cape Verde, and Ethiopia. These countries share similar aspirations for local efforts in sustainable conservation and effective management to drive socio-economic development.

Specific objectives of the project include engaging stakeholders and building awareness about the UNESCO Japan-funded and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia project on the Rehabilitation of the Majestic Cinema in Zanzibar to foster a sense of ownership and enthusiasm for the project.

To provide a platform for open dialogue, the launching event intends to address concerns, gather input, and receive feedback from the diverse stakeholders that would provide valuable insights into the project planning and implementation process.

To showcase the cultural significance of the Majestic Cinema, emphasizing its historical importance and role in the local communities that the rehabilitation project seeks to preserve and enhance, and to secure commitments and support from stakeholders, including government bodies, private sector entities, and local community leaders. This objective underscores the importance of garnering collective support to ensure the successful realization of the rehabilitation project.

According to Mr. Antonio Garau, director of Hifadhi, one of the events organizing team, the launching event of the project in Tanzania will be the occasion to gather all competent authorities, regional experts, and major stakeholders in the country to showcase the immense potential inherent in the project, emphasizing its significance in the cultural and socio-economic landscape of Stone Town (Zanzibar).

It will also be an opportunity to collect experiences from other countries, particularly Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands, on the process, benefits, and challenges of reusing cultural buildings.

“The participants will have the opportunity to explore the comprehensive vision behind the rehabilitation of the Majestic Cinema, witnessing firsthand the positive impact it promises to bring to the local community and the broader region,” Mr. Garau said, adding.

The launch, to be followed by a workshop, will also be an opportunity to collect experiences from other countries, particularly Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands, on the process, benefits, and challenges of reusing cultural buildings.

In addition to providing a platform for in-depth discussions and collaboration, the launching event will serve as the debut occasion to disseminate project information prominently. The national and local press, alongside UNESCO’s media outlets, will be invited to capture and share the unfolding narrative of the project.

Mr Garau said, “This strategic outreach aims not only to raise awareness about the project’s objectives but also to garner support and enthusiasm from a wider audience, fostering a sense of collective responsibility for the preservation and revitalization of Majestic Cinema in Zanzibar.”

He said that the event organized by UNESCO in partnership with his office (Hifadhi) compliments the efforts of the Government of Zanzibar aimed at increasing the role of society in the promotion and conservation of Zanzibar Heritage as a generator of inclusive development.

Representatives responsible for formulating and implementing cultural policies and relevant technical personnel from the ministries in Tanzania, experts from the international sphere, in particular, Saudi Arabia and Japan, and national organizations and agencies, representatives of the private sector and civil society organizations, and the major stakeholders of the activity.

He said the launching event of the project named ‘Adaptive re-use of Cultural buildings as a blueprint for Socio-Economic Development,’ is organized by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, in collaboration with the UNESCO Dar es Salaam Office and HIFADHI, and that there will be experts in heritage from different who will share their experience through panel discussions.

The panelists include Mr. Berend Kees Van der Lans from African Architecture Matters (AA Matters), Amsterdam in the Netherlands; Mr. Denis Lukwago, a Site Manager at the Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi in Uganda; and Dr. Alaaeldin Elwi from ‘Abdelrazek Elhabashi Founder of Beit Yakan, Cairo in Egypt.

Others are Ms. Joy Angela, Executive Director, Akoth Mboya GoDowns Arts Centre, Nairobi in Kenya; Mr. Paul Marie from Franciscus Otto Morel, Stadsherstel, Amsterdam in the Netherlands.


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