Number of Tunisian cinemas shrinks despite burgeoning film industry

Many movie theatres have become malls, restaurants and cafes.
Thursday 01/10/2020
Cinema ABC or the “Neon of Tunis” is a famous movie theatre in Tunis. (inkyfada.com)
Cinema ABC or the “Neon of Tunis” is a famous movie theatre in Tunis. (inkyfada.com)

TUNIS - Going to the cinema is increasingly uncommon in Tunisia, as movie theaters close even while the country’s film industry grows. Tunisia has recently produced more than 10 major films per year, with some winning prestigious awards at international film festivals.

In the 1970s, Tunisia had over 100 cinemas, but the number is now down to 18, most of which are in the capital Tunis.

Tunisians standing in a queue outside a movie theatre in Tunis, during the Carthage Film Festival. (AFP)
Tunisians standing in a queue outside a movie theatre in Tunis, during the Carthage Film Festival. (AFP)

The Tunelyz (Tunisian Insights Visualised) platform highlighted the decline of Tunisian cinemas in its latest report, noting that the trend is unfortunate given the country’s artistic breadth.

Tunelyz quoted figures by the National Institute of Statistics (INS) showing that Tunisia had an estimated 114 cinemas in the 1970s, up from 100 when the country declared independence.

But by the dawn of the new millennium, the number of movie theatres had fallen by 58% to 48, Tunisia’s press agency (TAP) quoted Tunelyz as saying. Today, according to reports, only 18 remain open.

Tunisian youths check the programme as they wait outside a movie theatre during the Carthage Film Festival in Tunis’ seaside suburb of Carthage. (AFP)
Tunisian youths check the programme as they wait outside a movie theatre during the Carthage Film Festival in Tunis’ seaside suburb of Carthage. (AFP)

Many of the closed theatres became malls and shopping centres, such as the “Palamrium,” “Studio 38,” “Capitol” and others on downtown Tunis’s main avenue Habibi Bourguiba. Many cinemas in other parts of the country were also remade into restaurants or shops.

One of the reasons Tunisian cinemas have continued to close are low numbers of viewers, largely fueled by the prevalence of online streaming services.

However, observers note that the Tunisian public is still drawn to cinemas, noting the large turnout, particularly among youth, during the annual Carthage Film Days festival and the recent success of “Cinema Pathe,” a private investment project featuring 8 new cinemas in different cities.

People walk next to Palmarium shopping mall in Tunis. (REUTERS)
People walk next to Palmarium shopping mall in Tunis. (REUTERS)

Observers added that Tunisian cinemas are in need of greater attention as a new generation of local directors and producers look to lead a “new cinema” renaissance, tackling complex social and political issues with their art that are of great interest to the public.