Darkened screens at Benghazi multiplex await war's end

BENGHAZI, Jay Deshmukh- The day after the Libyan revolution erupted in February, Benghazi's posh Al-Feel multiplex cinema closed its doors, its screens likely to remain dark until the war ends and the boys come home.
"We can't open until fighting ends on the front line where our brothers are battling Kadhafi's men," said Helmi Ali Hassan of the locals risking their lives to capture the hometown of the deposed leader, hundreds of kilometres (miles) to the west across the vast Gulf of Sirte.

Hassan, a security guard at the cinema, said the mood in the eastern city is "revolutionary and sombre at the same time," as the rebellion has killed tens of thousands since February.
The closure of the Al-Feel is testimony to the sombre mood still prevailing in this eastern Libyan city as it awaits the return of movie lovers.
The cineplex, which only opened its doors last October, is part of a modern seaside resort that has two swimming pools, cottages and cafeterias.
But for months now the entire resort has been virtually deserted, with just a few families visiting and only on weekends.
In the initial months of the rebellion, the resort even sheltered fleeing families from towns such as Ajdabiya and Brega, where fighting raged.
The multiplex has one 218-seat theatre and two small cinema halls -- one with 40 seats and the other with 20. The outside wall of the main theatre is decorated with frame photos of popular Egyptian actors.
"Not a single movie has been screened here since the revolution began. How can we show a movie? People are still engaged in the revolution," said Majid Omar, a caretaker who comes daily to the theatre, gets it cleaned and waits for news from the front line.
"Almost every family in Benghazi has someone or the other on the front line. So you can imagine what the mood is like. Entertainment is the last thing people are thinking about," he told AFP.
Omar takes pride in explaining the details of the multiplex, which he says is one of only two in Libya, the other being in Tripoli. The three projectors are imported from Germany.
Of the Arabic-language movies screened during those few months, most were Egyptian. Some Hollywood blockbusters were shown in the smaller halls, largely to private audiences.
"'Harry Potter' and the 'Twilight' series were very popular and also cartoons, as large groups of children used to regularly visit. Tickets were priced at five dinars," Omar said, a poster of "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" adorning the facade of the smallest hall.
"But these days it is all quiet here. The theatres are closed; the cafeterias are closed and the entire resort is closed. Fighting has to end for people to return to the movies," he said, adding that Libyans loved Egyptian films and the multiplex possessed prints of several of them.
But there is a voice of dissent amid the sombreness.
Popular Libyan actor Maylood al-Amroni feels that it is time cinemas open.
"Cinema halls must open now. I know fighting is still going on in Sirte and Bani Walid, but life goes on too," he told AFP.
Opening Al-Feel and other cinemas would actually help keep the Libyan revolutionary ferver alive, he argues.
"Cinema should focus on revolutions. We can show revolutionary movies if theatres open and so people can know what a revolution means," said the tall, 50-year-old bearded Amroni with one of the most recognised faces in Libya.
Popular for his comic acts, mostly criticising Moamer Kadhafi's administration in the past, Amroni is sad that Benghazi's theatres are closed, especially as Libya does not have its own movie industry.
"We don't have our own film industry. We should then keep our theatres open so we can show good cinema from Egypt, Hollywood, India," he said.
And he lamented that, despite a new Libya in the making since Kadhafi's fall, the North African country will probably never have its own film industry.
"We are a small country. For a flourishing movie industry, you need a large population. We don't have those numbers."

Saturday, October 8th 2011
Jay Deshmukh

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