In Asmara several cinema's were established during the interbellum during the Italian colonial period, mainly showing Italian, American and Indian features. But not all the Eritrean citizens had the opportunity to watch movies in the cinemas which were abundant even back then. The only few privileged citizens who were allowed to watch cinemas were the ones who worked with the Italians and only with their bosses were they allowed to get in. Almost all the movies back then were in Italian, especially until early 1940s.
The construction of cinemas began in 1920s, where the first one to be constructed was Cinema Emberto and Eritro. Also among the first cinemas constructed in early 1920 and still standing as one of the finest ones architecturally is Cinema Asmara, (Theatro Azmara). The cinema has a monumental architectural style with a three story classic podium. During the first decades after its construction, the cinema was used for stage drama performances and ballet shows only to be watched by the Italian ‘first class’ families.
At present, Asmara Theatre is used for rehearsals of stage dramas and other related cultural shows, but it is not functioning as cinema now. The structure of the cinema and the area it is seated on is in the main streets of Asmara, which gives a scenic vintage beauty of art deco to the city.
The Italians then constructed Cinema Hamassen for the local residents. It was among the first
cinemas to be constructed around the area where there was a dense population of locals. This was around 14 years after the Asmara Theatre was constructed. To this very day Cinema Hamassen
provides services for theatrical shows and movies.
Around 1940s, over 10 cinemas were constructed all over Eritrea, which makes it among the first, if not the first one to own grand theatres in Africa. The construction work, the sophistication of the engineering as well as the interior design of each cinema, especially the big ones captivated the eyes of a number of tourists over the years.
Cinema Roma, Cinema Impero, Cinema Capitol as well as the Odeon Theatre are four of the biggest cinemas in Eritrea. Located in the downtown streets of Asmara, the cinemas have magnificent outer view and a state of the art interior design. The first three were constructed in 1937, while Odeon Theatre followed a year after.
Records from the Eritrean Cinema Administration indicate that each and every single one of the cinemas was constructed for different purposes. The only people that were allowed to watch movies at cinema Impero and Capitol were among the first class from the colonizers, the Odeon Theatre was for the officers’ class and others.
The infrastructure, electrical installation and sound system posses a world class standard to this day. Although only a few of the cinemas underwent renovation, most of them still posses the genuine beauty and system from the time of the construction. Among the few that underwent extensive renovation is Cinema Roma, but the renovators applied great ingenuity to maintain the classic and original features of the cinema.
Back during the days, of course the cinemas were using old equipments which still remain as monuments of antiquity in some of the cinemas. The 88 millimeter projectors and the fade cinema system which used real players are abundant in all the cinemas. The engraved wall sculptures, the monumental architectural design, the stairways to the first class VIP boxes and the red carpet hallways especially at Cinema Roma are indeed a sight to see. After all these years, the cinemas inside Asmara and some other cities of Eritrea still maintaining the original designs and of course providing public services to this day.
Despite these almost ancient buildings, suggesting a long cinematic involvement, hardly any cinematographic information is available about this period. Only in recent years Eritrean filmmakers have reached beyond the language borders of their homeland. The first full feature 35 mm film still has yet to be produced in Eritrea. Video production, however, has increased in recent years. Sponsored by Western Eritrean communities, the "Eritrean Video Services" production company produced "Minister" in 2002 directed by Temesghen Tsehaie Abraha. This feature is one of the very first local films screened overseas and actually having a website. Another international event in 2002 was the granting of a 70,000 dollar award to local filmmaker Filmon Mebrahtu to produce "The Survivors", a one-hour documentary showing the lives of refugees in Western society.
In Eritrea the AVIE (Audiovisual Institute of Eritrea) has produced countless video's subjecting governmental, educational and also independent issues. Other productions meeting the international spotlights are Adde, at the Eritrea Festival 1999; Ts'n'at, at the 5th Film Festival 2000 (for best picture and directing); and M'qur Merzi, at the Eritrea Festival 2000. The AVIE is currently working to establish a film studio to produce 35 mm films. Local cinema is promoted at the annual cultural Eritrea festival, held concurrently in several countries all over the world featuring the latest in video production. Eritrean cinema shows a promising increase in production in recent years and is slowly emerging internationally. The local filmmakers with their modest film industrial means might, in the near future, surprise us all.
The Cinema Impero was constructed in Asmara in 1937. It is a masterpiece of "Italian Art-Deco style" The Cinema Impero (English: Cinema Empire) is an Art Deco-style Cinema built by the Italians in Asmara in 1937.
Cinema Impero was the largest movie theater constructed in Asmara during the last period of the Italian colony of Eritrea. It was named after the conquest of Ethiopia by Benito Mussolini and his proclamation of the Italian Empire.
The building still houses a cinema today, and it is considered by the experts one of the world's finest examples of Art Déco style building.
Cinema Impero is still structurally sound after 70 years, escaping damage during the several conflicts that have affected the Horn of Africa over the past century.
It is a tourist attraction in modern Asmara, along with the famous Fiat Tagliero Building and some other Italian-period structures of colonial Eritrea, including the Presidential Palace and the City Hall.
The building structure has not been substantially altered since its construction, as designed by architect Mario Messina.
Most of the equipment and the seats are all original. Forty-five round lights decorate the front with 'Cinema Impero' in illuminated letters, mounted vertically on the façade.
Several pairs of doors lead into the cinema. Each door has an impressive large semi-circular handle forming a full circle with its partner when both are closed.