Zambia’s oldest cinema is reopening - The Capitol Theatre 1931

posted by CapitolLivingstone on December 5, 2008 at 8:27 am

The Capitol Theatre in Livingstone Zambia is being brought back to life afetr years of closure. Built in 1931 it is the country’s oldest surviving cinema/theatre (the first one had no roof and when it rained it was described in the local press at the time as ‘being a little inconvenient’ when the heavens opened up with a torrential down pour!!!)

The Grill family, Jewish refugees from Lithuania, initially started the theatre and it soon passed on to the Sossen’s (related by marriage). Old man Harry Sossen was quite the gent in the town and he hosted the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Danny Kae and Ann Todd during their visits to Livingstone to see the Victoria Falls. Harry also struck up a friendship with Laurens van der Post whose book ‘Flamingo Feather’ Hitchcock wanted to put into film form. He had even chosen his leading lady for the film, Grace Kelly, but shortly afterwards she married Prince Rainier of Monaco and so the idea was shelved.

John Thaw of Inspector Morse fame made a film in the town in 1971, one of Doris Lessing’s books The Grass is Singing.

The Capitol building is of Art Deco design. It has 254 seats downstairs, 140 in the circle upstairs and two small boxes each with 10 seats in them.

A Canadian non profit organisation will be performing at the theatre between February to April once it has reopened under the direction of Bob Gregory as The Livingstone Performing Arts Foundation (LiPAF), which has introduced a new School Scholarship Program to assist some of the more than 300 orphaned children to attend Linda West Basic School in Livingstone itself.

The renovation and restoration of the Capitol building is an exciting project which will enrich the cultural component of Livingstone, increase entertainment opportunities, promote tourism, and stimulate activity in the downtown core. It will also provide a venue for a variety of community related activities and become home to the Livingstone Performing Arts Foundation (LiPAF) theatre company.

Both the investors in the project and LiPAF will be creating much needed employment in Livingstone. As a not-for-profit NGO, LiPAF will generate revenue to be put back into the community to assist our less fortunate residents, orphaned children, schools, sports teams, and voluntary organizations.

Every effort is being undertaken to create a first-class cinema/theatre and museum. Stylish outfits, representing the historical period of the building, will be provided for the Capitol employees who will receive considerable training in customer relations. Renovations are being completed to maintain the décor which resembles how the building looked when it was first opened.

Peter J

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