Seeking arthouse cinema in Kuwait

Aakash Bakaya

I want to get something out of the way before I begin. Films that are described as ‘Arthouse cinema’ should not be considered great automatically. They might be different, unique or in a genre you might have never seen before but the qualities of what makes a film good or bad still come to an individual’s preference.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the heart of the matter – seeking out ‘arthouse’ or ‘independent’ movies in Kuwait. The most straight-forward response would be – check your local movie listing in a movie chain near you. If you scroll past the usual array of the latest blockbusters, Bollywood tripe and the occasional mediocre animation you can actually find a few films that have done great in International film festival circuits or are picking up traction for the award season.

Recently ‘Mandy’, a grindhouse-inspired thriller, was running in a few cinemas and even for Kuwait that was quite surprising. I’ve seen a good amount of indie films in Kuwait but to see something from upcoming visionary director Panos Cosmatos on the big screen was an outing at the cinema I eagerly anticipated. Unfortunately, I could not catch it in the cinemas as the timings of the shows and the short 6 day duration of its run made it difficult to attend. This is an issue that affects the indie movie scene both in Kuwait and around the world.

Cinemas pay the movie’s distributer (usually the producer or the studio partner) to screen a movie. Big blockbusters are guaranteed money-makers for all parties involved so opening weekend audiences and front-loading these features are vital. Even then, not every screen can be used to show only the most popular movies of the week. Scarcity, whether natural or man-made, increases demands even though these scenarios may lead you to get a really bad seat near the front. So where does this leave the screening of those smaller, lesser known films?

In these cases, the risk lies wholly on the cinema house themselves. They still pay the movie studio to show the film but for a smaller amount and only for a limited amount of time. This plus the fact that the halls they are screened in are half the size of the regular ones either makes these films successful enough for them to run for another week or they simply fade away into obscurity with little attendance to show for it. It’s a tricky situation for both the cinemas who want to diversify their movie-listings and the cinephiles desperately trying to cleanse their palettes after the most recent superhero movie.

My own experience with arthouse cinema in Kuwait has been a mixed-bag. Dragging a group of friends for ‘It Comes at Night’ was immensely fun. The harrowing, brutal nature of the story created this uneasy feeling when exiting the cinema and we ended up discussing the story and its climax for hours afterwards. On the other hand, the showing of ‘Ex-Machina’ had crucial scenes and discussions censored and this left the film feeling confusing and pretty much pointless. But my worst was the time I had gone all the way to 360 Mall to catch Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘The Wind Rises’. It just happened to be on a Monday (the usual day for half-day prices for tickets) but I went simply because it was the last day I could possibly go. When I reached, the ticket counter told me that they don’t show limited releases on Mondays as this was their busiest day. I am not sure if they still follow that same procedure but it showcased the dismal attitude cinema chains hold towards smaller films. I never ended up watching what is supposed to be Miyazaki’s final film in a cinema and the disappointment of that night lingers.

There are other ways to catch indie films in Kuwait however. Film clubs and sometimes just individuals themselves promote outdoor film screenings and even embassies arrange showcases of their nation’s films. These may not be every one’s cup of tea but the options still exist. Arthouse films don’t show up on cinema listings weeks in advance, sometimes they show up the week or even the day before its release. So if you’re interested, checkout the movies being shown on Thursday as that’s the day new releases are first screened. Who knows, you just may end up having a cinematic experience you won’t soon forget.

By Aakash Bakaya

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