Monday, April 22, 2024

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SL Cinema Industry faces import quota crisis with NFC distributor monopoly

By: Staff Writer

Colombo (LNW): The country’s cinema industry is furious over the National Film Corporation’s (NFC) move to shut out the private sector by going back on the industry’s partial liberalisation and taking up a larger role in distributing films.

 Cinema owners and private sector importers and distributors warned that the move would be disastrous and put millions of investments made since 2001’s partial deregulation, and those planned for the future, at risk

Worst, they added, that the public would be stripped of choice and a proper cinematic experience to enjoy.

The private sector also warned that the local film industry and artists too stand to lose in the long run.

The rebounding cinema industry has run out of quotas for imports of films, prompting calls for the National Film Corporation (NFC) to temporarily take over the issuance until restrictions are fully phased out.

Sri Lanka has five circuits for distribution and the collective quota comprises 65 English movies, 70 Tamil movies and 25 of any other language movies. Industry sources said each circuit is only allocated 13 English films, 14 Tamil and 5 other language movies including Hindi.

However with the number of cinemas increasing and the short running time of 2-4 weeks per movie, the industry said the present quota allocation is inadequate.

The crisis could delay the screening of latest blockbuster movies including upcoming biographical thriller “Oppenheimer” directed, written and co-produced by Christopher Nolan.

 This movie, up for approval for release, is about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who helped develop the first nuclear weapons.

Other upcoming movies include “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem”, ‘Redemption’, ‘Whitebird, ‘GOLDA’, ‘The Exorcist’, ‘Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’,  ‘BARBIE’, ‘Blue Beetles’, ‘Equalizer 3’ and many more till end of 2023.

Sources pointed out that foreign film importers as well as domestic producers prefer to work with registered circuits of their choice based on confidence in their services and contracts with registered importers to distribute films to cinemas.

They are also responsible to ensure that the agreed share is correctly accounted for and paid in time.

With quotas exhausted and restrictions imposed on the cinema industry, the industry finds it difficult to operate.

The five circuits are Cinema Entertainments Ltd., Lanka Film Distributors Co Ltd., EAP Films and Theatres Ltd., Ridma Circuit – (under the National Film Corporation), Skyline Entertainments and Consultancy Ltd., and Liberty Cinemas Ltd.

The industry has made joint representation to the NFC to bring under it the issuance of quotas until a decision is made to abolish the quota system.

Having realised the ill-effects of the monopolistic nature of the NFC, including the number of cinemas coming down to 138 from 365 originally,

Post-partial liberalisation, the private sector began investing in cinemas, film imports and distribution, offering the latest movies and a better cinematic experience and choice for the general public.

Prior to the setbacks of the ongoing COVID pandemic and the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks, the industry was thriving, having increased the number of cinemas to over 200.

With several multiplexes planned, further growth was envisaged. Since liberalisation, the number of movie-going population has grown to over seven million.

The industry had drawn up plans to increase the base to 10 million by 2025. NFC as the de-facto regulator too benefitted, gaining 10% per ticket sold.

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