La Renaissance, Rialto, Select, Plaza, Airport, Rex: these mythical cinemas in Pointe-à-Pitre-Les Abymes

Rex, the last cinema in Pointe-à-Pitre, will not reopen its doors on June 22 - Photo: Évelyne Chaville

The mytical Rex announced its definitive closure on May 29. Built in 1961, Rex was unable to survive competition from Cinestar, this vast modern cinema complex located in Les Abymes and belonging to Caribbean Cinemas from Puerto Rico. There is no more cinema in Pointe-à-Pitre, the “city of art and history” lost its 5th cultural venue of this type.

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The entrance to the former Rex cinema in the Assainissement district

“Coronavirus: Following the ministerial announcement, the will cinema close its doors tonight, Saturday, March 14, after the last screening. We are counting on you to apply the health safety rules in force. Take care of yourselves, we hope to see you again very soon”, this is the poster that welcomed the few movie-goers who went to the Rex cinema, located at José Marti Street in the Assainissement district, Pointe-à-Pitre, on Saturday, March 14. Those attending the last screenings had the choice between : Onward by Dan Scanlon ; Bad Boy for Life by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence ; Sonic by Jeff Fowler with Jim Carrey ; Invisible Man by Leigh Whannell with Elisabeth Moss and Une Sirène à Paris by Mathias Malzieu with Nicolas Duvauchelle.

All these films were released in 2020, so they are new, but unfortunately the four Rex movie rooms, operated by Cinésogar, no longer attracted a large audience. A few years ago, this was not the case: the inhabitants of the South-Basse-Terre region, for example, used to book their weekends to come and see films in this mythical cinema in Pointe-à-Pitre, they were not afraid of the 50 kilometres by car because they were sure to have a good time. In recent years, Rex had become an uninteresting neighbourhood cinema, people walked past the building without even stopping to see the films on display.

Several reasons could explain the decrease in movie attendance in general : VCR that has already disappeared ; DVD player ; rentals of video cassettes and DVDs ; cable and satellite television channels ; special movie channels ; subscription to a platform offering films (Netflix) ; computer and Internet. And despite the exclusive movie releases in movie theaters, the audience, especially that of Rex, became increasingly scarce.

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One of the rooms in the Multiplexe Cinestar in Les Abymes

A coup de grâce from Puerto Rico

The coup de grâce was given to Rex, which was built nearly 60 years ago by the Élizé Group from Martinique with the opening of the Multiplexe Cinestar with its 10 screening rooms, in June 2017.

This new cinema belongs to Caribbean Cinemas – a company founded in 1969 in Puerto Rico by Victor Carrady and chaired by Robert Carrady – which, in addition to Puerto Rico, established itself in several Caribbean islands (Dominican Republic, US Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Antigua, Aruba, Trinidad and Tobago, Guadeloupe) and elsewhere (Panama, Guyana…) representing a mastodon with 57 cinémas and 462 screens. Located in the Dothémare joint development zone in Les Abymes, Cinestar, which cost 22 million euros, literally “sucked” Rex customers with its 5,000 m2 of surface area, its varied film program, its state-of-the-art equipment, especially in terms of dolby sound, its 1,200 parking spaces, its eating places, etc. Two weeks after its opening, more than 40,000 spectators were welcomed at Cinestar

Rex’s latest efforts – buying tickets in advance to avoid queuing, building a ramp for people with reduced mobility at the end of 2019 or renting a room to select candidates for a singing competition on a national television channel – did not stop the bleeding.

Perhaps the Rex management was really hoping to reopen the doors of this cinema complex, or perhaps it had already thrown in the towel long ago. It must be said that there is this project for an 8-10 room complex at Morne Bernard in Baie-Mahault – called Cinévallée – which should be built within two or three years. In 2017, an appeal regarding its construction had been filed before the Court by the brand new Cinestar, but in November 2019 the Administrative Court of Paris authorized its implementation in November 2019. Moreover, the end of D’Arbaud had often been announced due to lack of spectators, finally the cinema of the capital, Basse-Terre, which is also part of the Cinésogar company, is not affected by this decision to close Rex and it will welcome the audience on Wednesday June 24 instead of June 22, the date of reopening of all cinemas in France as part of the deconfinement.

But the inhabitants of Pointe-à-Pitre are now used to burying their cinemas. Indeed, this city which was considered the commercial capital of Guadeloupe had on its territory 5 cinemas : La Renaissance, Rialto, Plaza, Select and Rex.

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The former La Renaissance Cinema on Place de la Victoire

Plaza in the popular district of Dino

Located on Place de la Victoire, La Renaissance cinema-theatre was inaugurated on March 22, 1930. With its 500 seats and its beautiful “Art Nouveau” facade, it attracted all social strata including the bourgeoisie. “Film screenings from all over the world, plays and concerts were offered to the public there. Cinematographic activity only began with the opening of Rex”, said Gyslaine Nanga, the director of cultural affairs at Pointe-à-Pitre City Hall. Indeed, some people today remember the shows performed by singing stars from France inside these walls. From the 1970s, La Renaissance was dedicated exclusively to cinema and then closed its doors permanently in 2001. On January 25, 2020 a fire ravaged the building which was to be part of a cultural project planned by the Cap Excellence agglomeration community which had bought it…in 2010.

Rialto, opened in 1940 on Quai Gâtine, was devastated by a fire in 1950. During the Second World War, noted Gyslaine Nanga, “American soldiers stationed in the city organized screenings under the Kiosk in Place de la Victoire”.

Plazza was created in 1950 and closed in 1984. Some people recalled that its location was called Dino, at that time – today it is Chanzy Boulevard – and it was a popular district in a city of Pointe-à-Pitre, where the social level of the inhabitants was shown with bourgeois streets and poor streets.

For several decades, Plaza attracted lovers of peplums, westerns, detective films, romantic films and even adult films in the last years of its existence as well as shows. An inhabitant tells us, with great emotion, that the last show he saw in this famous hall was that of Martinican singer David Martial…

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The location of the former Plaza Cinema on Chanzy Boulevard

Financing films that look like us

The elderly in the city also remembered the Select cinema whish was created in 1957 and was also victim of a fire, they considered it to be the “Father’s cinema”. It is true that at that time, the Church and cinema could get along in Guadeloupe since in the town of Gourbeyre, for example, Father André Nio had installed a cinema that showed great films in the parish hall of the town; this place became Salle Gilles Floro. Gyslaine Nanga noted that: “Select was located on République Street in a traditional house that had belonged to the Bishopric; it was considered an annex of Plaza”.

The last cinema to open its doors in Pointe-à-Pitre was Rex, its demise was accelerated by the Covid-19 epidemic and lockdown. “Rex opened in 1961 and was considered, at the time, to be the largest cinema in Guadeloupe with its four screens spread over two levels”, added the city’s director of cultural affairs. But over the years, the flagship of screening rooms became obsolete.

To this list, we could add the Airport cinema, which was located in Le Raizet (Les Abymes), just a short distance from the centre of Pointe-à-Pitre. “Its last screening was in the late 1980s”, recalled a regular who saw a “James Bond” movie there. The Guadeloupe Chamber of Trades moved into its premises.

Today, the conclusion is clear: now there is no cinema on the territory of Pointe-à-Pitre, “city of art and history”. It would seem that an association would like to take over Rex to propose a new offer of cinema…

The people of Guadeloupe love the 7th art, there are several film festivals in our archipelago, our young people are attracted by careers in filmmaking but often our directors only shoot short films… It would therefore be important that a major cinema chain like Caribbean Cinemas, which earns a lot of money in Guadeloupe thanks to its Multiplexe Cinestar, invests in production of films that look like us, as it did in the Dominican Republic with the film “Los Leones”, released in November 2019.

Robert Carrady, President of Caribbean Cinemas, with members of the “Los Leones” film team at the premiere in Santo Domingo in November 2019