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Cinema industry in jeopardy

50% of cinemas running at a loss:

RAJAGIRIYA: The cinema industry is faced with imminent collapse as most cinemas in the country are running at loss. Eighty seven Cinema halls have been closed for the past five years. National Cinema Hall Owners' Association President Nimal Kularathna said.

Addressing a press briefing at the Samudradevi Hall, Rajagiriya, he said the unequal film distribution is the main cause for this.

The industry sustains thousand of employees including technicians and artistes. Their livelihood will be at a stake if swift measures are not taken to resuscitate this industry, Kularathne said.

The Association President said the National Film Corporation (NFC) provides loans to producers.

Some producers have defaulted the Corporation and have left the country. Cinemas owners are the income generators and they should be well looked after. The Corporation has neglected its responsibility, he said. "During President Ranasinghe Premadasa's regime, a Development Fund was formed to assist the producer and film hall owner alike.

A percentage of our income goes to this Fund and 50 per cent of this fund was meant for the development of cinemas. Today this fund nourished by us provides billions to film producers but not a penny to us," he said.

"Our cinema halls have to be upgraded to cater to the present demand. Nothing is possible without funds," he said.

Kularathna said the NFC should be directly responsible for the deterioration of the industry. Cinemas islandwide were categorised under five Circuits when the NFC was privatised under President Chandrika Kumaratunge's rule, he said.

"The NFC releases high quality films to some circuits which has acquired profit making cinema halls in the city and sub urban areas. But they do not release such films to circuits which have outstation cinemas. This step motherly treatment keeps the audience away from cinemas and leads to closure," Kularathna said.

Films Exhibitors Association President Vipula Senerath said the Corporation has no policy over the film distribution.

Sometimes the Corporation is dictated by the producer on how to distribute films. Sixty seven out of 134 cinemas earn a monthly income of Rs. 100,000. The owners have to bear the maintenance cost, staff salaries, EPF and ETF Contribution, Pradeshiya Sabha and Urban Council levy, water and electricity bills. An income of Rs. 150,000 is required to maintain an ordinary cinema, he said.

"The film producers are given loans, tax concessions ultimately they are recognised at film festivals and awards ceremonies for their service in the uplift of cinema. But neither the Government nor the Corporation has ever recognised the Cinema owners on whom they depend".

The NFC Chairman is legally bound to involve in the distribution. He should play a pivotal role and should take action if any injustices or malpractices occur. We call upon the Government to appoint a commission for the revitalisation of this industry. We pay taxes to the PSs and UCs but their standard of services is very low.

Rs. 3.50, derived from each ticket goes to the Corporation. In addition, we have to pay entertainment levy and public performance licence levy but the electronic media telecast films freely," he said.

Earlier there was an advisory council comprising producers, exhibitors, film hall owners, artistes to look into this sort of problems. Senerath lauded the President for granting tax concessions at the last budget mainly due to the Association's intervention.

Fifteen films have been produced during the first quarter of 2007 utilising these concessions. Committee Member Hemantha Kandamby also spoke.

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