Chad Cinema… and a Jew who became an imam of a mosque

At the end of World War II, a Jew of Iranian origin arrived in Chad. His name is George Hamdani, who lives in the heart of the African continent and no one knows why he came so far. When he arrived at Four Lamy, he decided to invest in this country, which was still colonized by the French, so he opened a theater as a place of entertainment, and he was on the European neighbors and the French who occupied most of the territory. City Center, also known as “Senegalese fighters”, the name given to all Africans who fought. In defense of France, in Indochina War or World War…So, without any introduction, Hamdani announced the opening of the first cinema in Chad and called it “La Normandy” in honor of the famous Normandy landings, which marked the beginning of the Allied victory in the greatest war known to mankind. His white masters ruled this black land.

Normandy Cinema is the first cinema in Chad to open its doors to watch films, and the last to stop fighting for survival, making Chad one of the very few countries where you won't find a cinema. Normandy was in the heart of the city, overlooking the Avenue Charles de Gaulle; A very important street in the capital and a modern hall by all standards. 700 seats, three films daily. The hall that saw light at the end of the Great War will know darkness, its doors closed many times over by Chad's many battles. It closed its doors for the first time in 1979 during the civil war. Before that, a high school student took a bullet that killed him, not knowing that he would become the most important director Chad knew, and years later his films would be shown in this hall where he frequented Indian films. The lounge returned to work after the war, but Hamdani sold it to Algeria, allowing Serge Coelho and Aisha Mustafa to work there and later become directors. Algeria then sold it to a Chadian businessman. In 2008, the lounge closed its doors due to the war and the flight of foreigners who made up the majority of the clientele, but director Mohamed Saleh Haroun worked hard to bring it back to work.

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I saw the hall for the first time in 2010 when I was trying to become a student at King Faisal High School. My passion for cinema led me to my first motorcycle accident when I saw posters and actors' faces on motorcycles. Then, I will go often even though the ticket price is high. I was walking the long way from Hared Tagil to the city center to see a 6pm movie and chat with the woman working at the ticket office. She was probably Lebanese because she spoke to me in French and understood my words, which were full of Arabic phrases. In 2012, the hall was permanently closed due to Boko Haram attacks and its doors have not been opened till date.

George Hamdani, businessman and imam
In September 2023, the Turkish newspaper TRT wrote about the only Jew in Chad, and reported that it was sent on September 30, 1962, according to a document written by Aryeh Lavie, the Israeli ambassador in charge of the Tel Aviv embassy in N'Djamena. For the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Middle East Department, George Hamdani, who lived here in Chad as a Lebanese Muslim, was actually an Iranian Jew, specifically from the city of Hamedan. When he came to Chad, he claimed to be a Muslim, became an imam and a muzeen, married a Muslim woman and had seven children with her, then he stopped frequenting the mosque and people discovered that he was not a Muslim. Nothing happened… Being rich and powerful, he lived his entire life as if he had never committed a crime.

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From Normandy to Scheherazade
After the success of Hamdani's investment in cinema theaters, theaters followed. N'Djamena knew theaters such as Le Ciné Rio, Scheherazade Cinema and Ciné Étoile owned by Lebanese businessmen. At the same time, the southern cities got to know the first cinema when a Sudanese businessman named “Abu Al-Hasan” decided to open a hall in the southern city of “Mendo” and called it “Logon” cinema after the river Logon. In those years, another Lebanese raised the curtain in a hall that rivaled Normandy, although it was located in the town of Saar, that of Cine Rex.

All these mandapas are weakened, dead and on the verge of destruction. “Shehrazad” became a granary, while “Rio” became a central market and a platform for merchants to display their wares. In 2010, the then Minister of Culture, Zubair Younis, tried to reopen the two halls, but his efforts were unsuccessful. As a last resort, director Muhammad Saleh Haroun tried to save the Sachati Cinema, opened by Lebanese businessman Habib Sachati, and the director learned the beginning of his love for the camera and showing movies. Car wheels are sold inside this shop-turned-hall today.

Normandy Hall has become part of the city's memory and still bears its name after the government managed to prevent its owner from turning it into a warehouse, however, it is no longer a hall and there is no hope of its return. what is that. She was alone with the name for more than seventy years. Hamdani is probably the only Jew in Chad, and certainly Chad is the only country without a movie theater.

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