Photo: Lugar Theatre

Film industry says reopening movie theatres at 50 percent capacity will not be enough to recoup losses and expenses

With the movie theatres closed for more than two years, the film industry incurred considerable losses as shootings were impeded, and the film releases and screening were put on halt, owing to the pandemic.

About 40 films are waiting to be screened at various movie theatres limited to just a few dzongkhags, according to Chencho Dorji, the President of Film Association of Bhutan.

“In order for the movies to be screened across the country, it will generally take two years due to limited theatres, and also due to the fact that we do not have official movie distributors; the producers, themselves, are the distributors and have to travel around screening the movie, seeking permission from schools etc. Also, screening two different movies simultaneously in the same area at the same time will thwart the revenue generated from each movie, as the consumers may not watch two movies on the same day, so we generally screen one movie at a time. Our main worry is that it will take a long, long time to screen all 40 pending movies across the country,” said Chencho Dorji.

He also said that financial institutions, like banks, do not have enough confidence to invest in the film industry, and they are not willing to give loans and production budget since the revenue generated from the tickets is barely able to recoup the expenditure. So the production budget are either generally borrowed from private moneylenders or met from their own pockets. Out of the 40 films, 25 films are running on heavy losses, Chencho Dorji pointed out.

For those who took loans from the government, there was a certain waiver and Kidu, but for those that borrowed from the private moneylenders, they are in dire predicament, said the President.

In terms of ngultrums, this could translate to about a loss of Nu 15-20 million suffered by each filmmaker that borrowed from private moneylenders.

Another official from the film association said that the government’s decision to operate theatres at 50 percent capacity would seriously hamper the film industry.

“Our biggest problem is limited number of theatres in the country. When the number of audience is reduced, the movie will have to be screened again and again, which will reduce the customer turnover (like the law of diminishing return) and the revenue generation will be negatively impacted. A bad movie that has 100 percent watchers will make far greater revenue than a marvelous movie that has been screened at half its capacity for over and over again. Moreover, when the movies are screened again, they lose their ‘freshness’, some audience may even spoil the movie to other audiences or it might get leaked outside,” said the official.

Regarding the sequence in which the movie will be screened, the official said generally the order in which the review certificate has been issued, is followed at the theatres.

“It depends on the date on which the review certificate has been issued from the NFC for the movie. The NFC has set of guidelines and criteria to determine if the movie is fit to be screened to the public. If it does not meet certain criteria, the film will be asked to be amended to fit the criteria,” said the official.

The pandemic has greatly affected the industry, but according to the official, the film industry has been surviving on the Kidu initiative and also on the fact that OTTP streaming services, like Samuh, and Songayala has been screening their movies, not withstanding the fact that revenue generated from streaming online is far less than from screening.

However, those that did not get a chance to stream their movies did not generate any revenue. Other challenges faced are inefficient distribution system, market constraint, unwillingness of financial institutions to invest in the industry and providing advanced training to the film crew.

The filmmaking has three processes; production, distribution and exhibition, out of which exhibition proved to be the most challenging process while there was no decline in production.

“The production team produces the content while the distributor buys the movie from the producer and distributes to the exhibition centers like movie theatres. Right now, we have production teams, limited exhibition centers, and we don’t have distributors at all and the main reason why we don’t have distributors is because we don’t have cinema halls in all twenty dzongkhags,” added the President.

A major problem faced by the film industry is the leakage and piracy of movies.

“It (piracy) is something that we have no control over. It is difficult to catch the perpetrator but if they are found, they are made to pay fines. Especially during the pandemic times, the filmmakers have lost a lot of skilled and professional crews. They had to find alternative sources of livelihood, and all of our filmmakers have been suffering. But we are hopeful that we might be in the position to revive the industry, and get the full support from the government, in terms of both finances and policies. We have submitted a request to the Prime Minister’s Office,” said Chencho Dorji.

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