Angolan Cinemas: Past and Present Tense
The photo that graces the cover of Angola Cinemas by Walter Fernandes and Miguel Hurst (a new coffee table book on Angola’s cinema spaces published by Goethe-Institut and edited by Christiane Schulte, Gabriele Stiller-Kern, and Miguel Hurst), says it all: futurist, modernist, unfinished, and abandoned. This is the state of so much in Angola… or had been until the war ended in 2002 and the oil boom hit. Angola’s redevelopment and reconstruction has been the subject of both gooey Africa-rising praise and stinging jeremiads. Angola has witnessed lots of construction. But cultural spaces, and historical patrimony in general, have not fared so well.
Angola Cinemas brings a fresh focus to the historic spaces of film viewing. Angola is not known for being a center of film production currently nor in the past but by 1975 there were 50 theatres. Now largely moribund, a handful are being revived. Brief entries by Maria Alice Correia & F. João Guimarães and by Paula Nascimento (all architects), center on the distinct architectural elements of Angolan cinemas: the cine-esplanda (open-air cinemas) and the late colonial tropical modernist architecture that shaped cinemas and urban space more generally in Angola (and other Portuguese colonies). They look at the key social role of the cinema in people’s lives and as a space for a diverse set of arts: theatre, film, and music. Nascimento argues for preservation based not just on the physical space but on that cultural dynamism: “Restoring them means not only recovering their architectural forms, but equally their functional forms: it is important to establish a dialectic between the future and the past among their new users.” (21)