The iconic Century Plaza in Nairobi’s CBD, home of the premier movie theatre - Anga-Imax 20th Century - is the new theatre of drama in the city.
There are no blockbuster movie sessions going on after Covid-19 stopped the action, yet behind the soundproofed walls, is a feud that could shut the doors of the iconic home of the cinema in the city for good.
Eight years after the current Arfa Afra Ltd took over the running of the theatre with a 10-year lease contract that expires in 2023, a brewing dispute between the Century Plaza landlord and the investors is getting nasty and now, auctioneers have been called.
Through a public notice issued through the dailies this week, the movie theatre equipment such as projectors, TV sets, power back-up units, roof and wall-mounted speakers, POS, and seats as well as kitchen equipment from the establishment’s Arfa bar will be up for sale. The public auction has been set for Wednesday 15. Now Arfa Afra Ltd is bracing to halt the move – by all means necessary.
“All the above goods shall be sold as one lot. Viewing can be done on prior arrangements with our offices. A refundable deposit of Sh100,000 shall be paid for one to obtain a bidding number,” read the public notice put up by Ideal Auctioneers who are working on behalf of the establishment’s landlord, Gaetano Ruffo.
Kenneth Kimutai, the Imax 20th Century general manager, told The Standard they have been engaging Ruffo on the matter through their legal team.
“Everyone knows that the cinema industry has suffered because of Covid-19 restrictions and just like many others, we are down on our knees. We approximately have Sh4.5 million rent arrears accrued from the last three months or so and this is something we can solve amicably,” said Mr Kimutai.
“We usually make our payments through a quarter system but we all know how things have been tough. I am aware that he is planning to renovate the building but I think it’s wrong to use this to kick us out while we know this is an iconic place known for cinema,” added Kimuta, noting that a rent deposit of Sh10 million that the landlord holds from the investors is enough to stop the eviction and the auction.
Imax 20th Century is the last surviving pioneer movie theatres with Century Plaza having been designed as a film theatre by its Italian owners decades ago. If closed, it will be an end of an era for such entertainment establishments that offered fun for lovers and friends seeking leisure and fun during their free time.
It paints fainting shadows from the past when going out for a movie was a big deal and earned many bragging rights to claim romance and find a life partner. The other famous theatres - Kenya Cinema, Nairobi Cinema, Odeon and Belle Vue Drive-in - have since been converted into places of worship.
“I recall back in 1995 when I took my girlfriend, who is now my wife, to 20th Century for the Forest Whitaker directed romance and drama film Waiting to Exhale. It was a big deal proving you were a real man by getting your lover a movie ticket; buying popcorn and coffee into the movie hall and holding your emotions together for two hours. That was seen to be really romantic if not sexy,” says Festus Maithya, a father of three.
“My first date was at the movies. I was so smitten that at the end of the movie, I ended up kissing this guy; it was my first kiss. From then on, we never missed any big movie in town until we parted ways following his proposal to another woman who became his wife. I was so heartbroken after he left me that I never stepped into a movie theatre again,” remarks Rubbie Chemu, 32.
Even with popular modern shopping malls still setting up state-of-the-art theatres, the theatre movie show seems a dying practice. Technology has brought the big screen into households where one can access the latest movie at the touch of a button.
But Imax general manager says cinema halls are till attracting many numbers especially when big Hollywood blockbuster movies are in season.
“You will be shocked that we get full bookings when we have big movies,” he says