BOOK REVIEW Angola Cinemas

Published at: 22 July 2015

A spectacular release by the Goethe-institute takes a look at the disappearing cinema architecture of Angola’s deflated cultural boom.

By 1975 there were 50 independent stand-alone cinemas built across the towns and rural suburbs of Angola. Today most of them are empty, but some are enjoying a revival by audiences and an academic community interested in uncovering the stories these formidable structures once used to house. Now a new coffee table book on Angola’s cinema spaces published by Goethe-Institut called Angola Cinemas by Walter Fernandes and Miguel Hurst, edited by Christiane Schulte, Gabriele Stiller-Kern, and Miguel Hurst takes a look at these vanishing spaces and their remarkable histories.

Through the more than 160 color plates readers travel through each of the cinema spaces, thick layers of dust covering all their modernist edifices. 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). Together they look at the key social role of the cinema in Angola and how the cinema can act 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.”

But it isn’t just a pretty coffee-table book, it is a call to action. Not just because some of the cinemas were never finished and never opened (like the Cine Estúdio on the book’s cover or the Cinema Infante Sagres, said to be the largest cinema on the continent in 1975), but because the book marks the beginning of a collective research project on these theatres that asks for public participation via their website.

It is a beautiful volume of thoughts and images and deserves a sequel.

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