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State-run cinemas ‘dying’ in Vietnam

State-run cinemas ‘dying’ in Vietnam

Wednesday, November 26, 2014, 17:34 GMT+7

Scores of state-run cinemas throughout the country – including those in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – are decades past their good old days, with most of which now dilapidated, making serious losses, or closed.

These cinemas are a stark contrast to the hi-end privately-owned cineplexes located in inviting shopping and entertainment complexes such as CGV, Lotte, Galaxy, BHD Cineplex, and Platinum Cineplex.

A number of state cinemas have been closed, with the remaining acting as a sad reminder of a bygone era when locals would queue for hours to buy tickets.

The cinemas, most of which were handed over to state management after 1975, have been slowly grinding to a standstill.

While the privately-owned cineplexes boast 3D and 4D screening rooms and hi-end sound technology, most state-run cinemas have only obsolete 2D screening equipment and poor sound systems.

All this greatly deters moviegoers, though several offer tickets half as cheap as those at their private counterparts.

Their unkempt, dilapidated appearance and lack of comforts make them even less appealing.

While a number have been shut down after years of agonizingly poor business, the remainder are suffering a “living death.”

Hanoi, for example, used to have nearly 20 cinemas under state management. However, only a handful remain in operation today.

“There’s not much we could have done over the past decades to stop the capital’s once-popular theaters from being closed down or to improve their performance,” said Ngo Thi Phuong Lien, a department chief of the Hanoi Film Co., which runs over 10 cinemas.

She added that her daughter, who is in her early 20s, would rather pay to watch films at the private cineplexes than accompany her to free screenings at one of the few state-run cinemas which boast a 3D screening room.

Lien lamented her company is stuck in a dead end between operating under the Enterprise Law on the one hand and fulfilling “political obligations” on the other.

She noted her company does plan to cooperate with privately-owned firms to revamp its cinemas and improve their performance, but it has not gained the city’s consent.

Some have been lucky enough to receive state funding for renovations.

Revamp work is currently being conducted at Son Tay Cinema, which has ceased operation in the past 10 years. The facelift is slated for completion in 2016.

However, Truong Manh Ha, director of the Film Distribution and Screening Center, which runs the theater, sadly said his center does not expect much from the work, as with a 400m² area and funding of under VND3 billion (US$141,203), they cannot afford a 3D screening room.

Most of the capital’s old state-run cinemas, such as Me Linh, Kinh Do, Dang Dung, Bach Mai, Dong Da, and Dan Chu, are now a thing of the past. The cinemas have either been replaced with modern entertainment and shopping complexes and bars or are rented out for other kinds of business, or as practice venues for local art troupes.

New theaters also suffer

Worse, even the state-run cinemas built in the early 21st century are not faring much better. Some even risk being, or have already been, shut down.

Fafilm Vietnam, a film distributing giant which hired several cinemas throughout Hanoi back in the 1990s, is performing poorly.

Pham Van Hoa, its general director, lamented that Fafilm has had little for some 10 years now. It has been mostly tasked with screening state-invested films in remote areas.

Likewise, Ngoc Khanh Cinema, which is run by the Vietnam Film Institute, was renovated in 2006.

However, its performance fell far behind expectations, though its directorate gave it their best shot, including increasing the number of screening rooms from one to three and offering freebies.

The cinema was closed down altogether in August this year.

Similarly, Kim Dong Cinema was rebuilt in 2010 with an investment of over VND100 billion ($4.71 million) from state-run oil and gas behemoth PetroVietnam.

The new cinema now boasts a few 2D, 3D, and 4D screening halls. However, its performance remains agonizingly sluggish. Thang Tam (August) Cinema, where several films at the ongoing Hanoi International Film Festival are being screened, has been struggling over the past several years to maintain its reputation as one of the capital city’s cinematic icons during its golden age. Different approaches have been adopted to improve the performance of the theater, which is run by the Hanoi Film Co., including screening new blockbusters, lowering ticket prices, upgrading facilities, and offering two 3D screening rooms, but to little avail.

The cinema has seen plunges in number of filmgoers for the past three years, resulting in hefty losses.

Lien, of the Hanoi Film Co., warned the grim prospect of shutdown is looming large if the situation does not improve.

Cinemas in other regions no better

The situation is equally grim or even worse in other regions of Vietnam, including Ho Chi Minh City.

The state-run Thua Thien-Hue Film Distribution and Screening Center is currently managing four cinemas, including Dong Ba, Gia Hoi, and Hoan My, which are located in Thua Thien-Hue Province’s urban areas.

Only one of them still remains in operation.

The three others have been abandoned for around 20 years now and have been turned into dumps or drug addict havens.

According to Ho Xuan Dai, the center director, his center submitted five years ago a project to sell three of the cinemas for money to build a 1,785m² modern cinema and entertainment complex, which is expected to cost almost VND23 billion ($1.08 million).   The project earned the green light from the provincial People’s Committee in October 2009, and was expected to be complete by late 2011.

However, the project remains on the blueprint due to a policy that tightened the belt for non-urgent public structures.

State-run cinemas in Ho Chi Minh City – the country’s entertainment hub, which is now packed with modern privately-owned and foreign-invested cineplexes – are also in for the same fate.

Theaters such as Khai Hoan, Minh Chau, Le Thanh, Cau Bong, and Van Hoa – which were the pride of residents and frequently-visited places decades ago – have now been shut down, or leased for other purposes.

Archival documents and photos pointed out that Saigon (the former name of Ho Chi Minh City) – once considered the Pearl of the Far East – used to boast a highly advanced cinema system compared to other Southeast Asian countries back then.

Most of these cinemas are well past their golden age and have succumbed to fierce competition from modern, comfy privately-owned cineplexes, which have mushroomed throughout the city.

According to experts, several poorly-performing state-run cinemas are still maintained to serve their political obligations by screening state-ordered films during the country’s major holidays.

Bui The Lam, director of the Hai Phong City Film Distribution Center, lamented his center has  called for partnership from local and foreign investors, but they have refused, as the dilapidated cinemas under its management are not located in modern, crowded shopping malls or entertainment venues.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Many cultural authorities are supportive of the proposals to upgrade old cinemas into modern commercial, entertainment complexes.

According to Dr. Nguyen Thi Hau, former deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City Institute for Development Studies, the cinemas’ sluggish performance in the past 10 years is concurrent with the country’s myriad other wasted cultural facilities, including public libraries, art theaters, and cultural complexes.

A study conducted by the institute in 2012 among 400 subjects in the city’s inner districts revealed that 9 percent of the respondents found cinemas highly appealing places to go to, while another 32.25 percent saw them as appealing and 41 percent regarded them as so-so.

Dr. Hau noted going to cinemas remains one of the most popular recreational activities of local residents.

She expressed her support for selling these properties to build new, modern entertainment complexes in inner districts, or new cinemas in suburban areas, where privately-owned companies are reluctant to invest in cultural structures.

Le Hoang, former board chair of Van Hoa Sai Gon General Company, also approves of the emerging trend to develop obsolete state-run cinemas into versatile entertainment complexes.

Three such cinemas, Thang Long, Toan Thang, and Vinh Quang in Districts 3 and 5, have been torn down for building commercial entertainment complexes, which are slated for inauguration next year.

Directors of state-run film distribution and screening centers in northern Hai Phong City and elsewhere said they will step up their efforts to boost their cinemas’ appeal and attract partnership with private firms.

Hoang Em, vice director of Saigon Media JSC, suggested that state-run cinema systems be privatized to compete healthily with privately-owned rivals.

According to 2013 statistics compiled by the Vietnam Cinema Department, 69 cinemas with 104 screening halls nationwide were under state management.

Hanoi boasts over 10 such cinemas, the highest concentration, with most other provinces and cities having between one and three each.

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Scores of state-run cinemas throughout the country – including those in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – are decades past their good old days, with most of which now dilapidated, making serious losses, or closed.

These cinemas are a stark contrast to the hi-end privately-owned cineplexes located in inviting shopping and entertainment complexes such as CGV, Lotte, Galaxy, BHD Cineplex, and Platinum Cineplex.

A number of state cinemas have been closed, with the remaining acting as a sad reminder of a bygone era when locals would queue for hours to buy tickets.

The cinemas, most of which were handed over to state management after 1975, have been slowly grinding to a standstill.

While the privately-owned cineplexes boast 3D and 4D screening rooms and hi-end sound technology, most state-run cinemas have only obsolete 2D screening equipment and poor sound systems.

All this greatly deters moviegoers, though several offer tickets half as cheap as those at their private counterparts.

Their unkempt, dilapidated appearance and lack of comforts make them even less appealing.

While a number have been shut down after years of agonizingly poor business, the remainder are suffering a “living death.”

Hanoi, for example, used to have nearly 20 cinemas under state management. However, only a handful remain in operation today.

“There’s not much we could have done over the past decades to stop the capital’s once-popular theaters from being closed down or to improve their performance,” said Ngo Thi Phuong Lien, a department chief of the Hanoi Film Co., which runs over 10 cinemas.

She added that her daughter, who is in her early 20s, would rather pay to watch films at the private cineplexes than accompany her to free screenings at one of the few state-run cinemas which boast a 3D screening room.

Lien lamented her company is stuck in a dead end between operating under the Enterprise Law on the one hand and fulfilling “political obligations” on the other.

She noted her company does plan to cooperate with privately-owned firms to revamp its cinemas and improve their performance, but it has not gained the city’s consent.

Some have been lucky enough to receive state funding for renovations.

Revamp work is currently being conducted at Son Tay Cinema, which has ceased operation in the past 10 years. The facelift is slated for completion in 2016.

However, Truong Manh Ha, director of the Film Distribution and Screening Center, which runs the theater, sadly said his center does not expect much from the work, as with a 400m² area and funding of under VND3 billion (US$141,203), they cannot afford a 3D screening room.

Most of the capital’s old state-run cinemas, such as Me Linh, Kinh Do, Dang Dung, Bach Mai, Dong Da, and Dan Chu, are now a thing of the past. The cinemas have either been replaced with modern entertainment and shopping complexes and bars or are rented out for other kinds of business, or as practice venues for local art troupes.

New theaters also suffer

Worse, even the state-run cinemas built in the early 21st century are not faring much better. Some even risk being, or have already been, shut down.

Fafilm Vietnam, a film distributing giant which hired several cinemas throughout Hanoi back in the 1990s, is performing poorly.

Pham Van Hoa, its general director, lamented that Fafilm has had little for some 10 years now. It has been mostly tasked with screening state-invested films in remote areas.

Likewise, Ngoc Khanh Cinema, which is run by the Vietnam Film Institute, was renovated in 2006.

However, its performance fell far behind expectations, though its directorate gave it their best shot, including increasing the number of screening rooms from one to three and offering freebies.

The cinema was closed down altogether in August this year.

Similarly, Kim Dong Cinema was rebuilt in 2010 with an investment of over VND100 billion ($4.71 million) from state-run oil and gas behemoth PetroVietnam.

The new cinema now boasts a few 2D, 3D, and 4D screening halls. However, its performance remains agonizingly sluggish. Thang Tam (August) Cinema, where several films at the ongoing Hanoi International Film Festival are being screened, has been struggling over the past several years to maintain its reputation as one of the capital city’s cinematic icons during its golden age. Different approaches have been adopted to improve the performance of the theater, which is run by the Hanoi Film Co., including screening new blockbusters, lowering ticket prices, upgrading facilities, and offering two 3D screening rooms, but to little avail.

The cinema has seen plunges in number of filmgoers for the past three years, resulting in hefty losses.

Lien, of the Hanoi Film Co., warned the grim prospect of shutdown is looming large if the situation does not improve.

Cinemas in other regions no better

The situation is equally grim or even worse in other regions of Vietnam, including Ho Chi Minh City.

The state-run Thua Thien-Hue Film Distribution and Screening Center is currently managing four cinemas, including Dong Ba, Gia Hoi, and Hoan My, which are located in Thua Thien-Hue Province’s urban areas.

Only one of them still remains in operation.

The three others have been abandoned for around 20 years now and have been turned into dumps or drug addict havens.

According to Ho Xuan Dai, the center director, his center submitted five years ago a project to sell three of the cinemas for money to build a 1,785m² modern cinema and entertainment complex, which is expected to cost almost VND23 billion ($1.08 million).   The project earned the green light from the provincial People’s Committee in October 2009, and was expected to be complete by late 2011.

However, the project remains on the blueprint due to a policy that tightened the belt for non-urgent public structures.

State-run cinemas in Ho Chi Minh City – the country’s entertainment hub, which is now packed with modern privately-owned and foreign-invested cineplexes – are also in for the same fate.

Theaters such as Khai Hoan, Minh Chau, Le Thanh, Cau Bong, and Van Hoa – which were the pride of residents and frequently-visited places decades ago – have now been shut down, or leased for other purposes.

Archival documents and photos pointed out that Saigon (the former name of Ho Chi Minh City) – once considered the Pearl of the Far East – used to boast a highly advanced cinema system compared to other Southeast Asian countries back then.

Most of these cinemas are well past their golden age and have succumbed to fierce competition from modern, comfy privately-owned cineplexes, which have mushroomed throughout the city.

According to experts, several poorly-performing state-run cinemas are still maintained to serve their political obligations by screening state-ordered films during the country’s major holidays.

Bui The Lam, director of the Hai Phong City Film Distribution Center, lamented his center has  called for partnership from local and foreign investors, but they have refused, as the dilapidated cinemas under its management are not located in modern, crowded shopping malls or entertainment venues.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Many cultural authorities are supportive of the proposals to upgrade old cinemas into modern commercial, entertainment complexes.

According to Dr. Nguyen Thi Hau, former deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City Institute for Development Studies, the cinemas’ sluggish performance in the past 10 years is concurrent with the country’s myriad other wasted cultural facilities, including public libraries, art theaters, and cultural complexes.

A study conducted by the institute in 2012 among 400 subjects in the city’s inner districts revealed that 9 percent of the respondents found cinemas highly appealing places to go to, while another 32.25 percent saw them as appealing and 41 percent regarded them as so-so.

Dr. Hau noted going to cinemas remains one of the most popular recreational activities of local residents.

She expressed her support for selling these properties to build new, modern entertainment complexes in inner districts, or new cinemas in suburban areas, where privately-owned companies are reluctant to invest in cultural structures.

Le Hoang, former board chair of Van Hoa Sai Gon General Company, also approves of the emerging trend to develop obsolete state-run cinemas into versatile entertainment complexes.

Three such cinemas, Thang Long, Toan Thang, and Vinh Quang in Districts 3 and 5, have been torn down for building commercial entertainment complexes, which are slated for inauguration next year.

Directors of state-run film distribution and screening centers in northern Hai Phong City and elsewhere said they will step up their efforts to boost their cinemas’ appeal and attract partnership with private firms.

Hoang Em, vice director of Saigon Media JSC, suggested that state-run cinema systems be privatized to compete healthily with privately-owned rivals.

According to 2013 statistics compiled by the Vietnam Cinema Department, 69 cinemas with 104 screening halls nationwide were under state management.

Hanoi boasts over 10 such cinemas, the highest concentration, with most other provinces and cities having between one and three each.

Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get the latest news about Vietnam!

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