Thai filmmakers demand fairer screen quota

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

A coalition of filmmakers and distributors calling themselves the “Thai Filmmakers’ Network” gathered in Thailand’s capital Bangkok on Jan. 11, demanding that the country’s two largest cinema chains give equal screening opportunities to domestic films and end their favoritism for imported blockbusters.

The network members said they were frustrated with a current system spearheaded by the two chains that was giving too much screen time to lucrative foreign films while making it difficult for many domestic movies to make it into theatres at all.

Accusing the country’s two dominant cinema operators, Major Cineplex Group and SF Cinema, of colluding to primarily allow only commercially promising foreign blockbusters into their circuits, the network said the practice effectively denies domestic films adequate screening schedules.

While Thai films frequently receive accolades and prizes at film festivals around the world, many of them either never get shown at home at all or at the most receive a few screening days before being scrapped.

Network member and independent director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit cited the case of his own recent film, A Gas Station, which was thrown out after seven days and “just as word of mouth had started to work” and bring in audiences.

Meanwhile, fellow network member Chartchai Ketnust said his directorial debut From Bangkok to Mandalay, a Thailand-Myanmar co-production, had earned “nothing” in Thailand. Yet it raked in a respectable THB20 million ($571,000) in neighboring Myanmar despite that country’s thinly spread and antiquated cinema infrastructure.

To help rectify this situation and lend Thai films more equal footing against the imported competition, the network presented a series of demands to representatives of Major Cineplex and SF Cinema, who had also been attending the gathering.

Firstly, the two chains were asked to allocate no more than 20 percent of all their screens to any single film, whether local or foreign.

Secondly, the network wants domestic movies to be screened five times daily for at least two weeks, in adherence with an already existing—but apparently broadly ignored—law dating from 2008 that fixes the ratio of imported and domestic films to be shown in Thai cinemas.

Furthermore, the network called for the abolition of the anachronistic “Virtual Print Fee,” which distributors still have to pay to cinemas as a subsidy originally intended to help ease their transition from print film to digital projection—and despite the fact that both Major Cineplex and SF Cinema became fully digital years ago.

According to data provided by the local daily newspaper Khaosod, the market share of domestic films fell from 22 percent in 2014 to just 13 percent in 2016. While the 38 Thai films distributed in 2016 made a combined local box office of only THB565 million ($16.1 mil.), the 245 foreign movies imported in 2016 had earned well over THB4.1 billion ($177 mil.).

Japanese Game Guru Predicts Merger of Games and Films

Legendary game designer Hideo Kojima has predicted that videogames and movies might “merge into one type of entertainment” in the not-too-distant future.

Kojima, best known in the West for his iconic Metal Gear action game series, told reporters from BBC’s Radio 1 during a recent interview in Tokyo that his game design studio is “already preparing for that future.”

The 53-year-old said a time would be coming around rather sooner than later when movies become playable, while games would give their players the choice to access movie-like content within them.

"More and more people [in the industry] are looking at types of media that combine elements together... That's where we need to focus our efforts, on this convergence," he told the BBC.

First steps in that direction are already undertaken in the form of a new generation of videogames deploying virtual reality (VR) technology that enables gamers to interact with their in-game environment through the wearing of special goggles.

Wanda Group Buys Scandinavia’s Largest Chain

China’s Dalian Wanda Group, through its AMC Theatres subsidiary, has entered into an agreement to acquire Scandinavia’s largest cinema operator, Nordic Cinema Holding AB, for $930 million.

Chinese news website china.org,cn reported that this is the second major acquisition by AMC in Europe within the past 12 months. The subsidiary, which itself was purchased by Wanda in 2012 for a staggering $2.6 billion, last year already bought out Europe’s largest cinema chain, Odeon & UCI.

The latest acquisition will considerably expand the mother company’s influence in the European film market. Nordic reportedly operates 118 cinemas comprising 664 screens across several Scandinavian and Baltic countries and is the market leader in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Norway, Latvia and Lithuania.

The acquisition will increase AMC’s portfolio to a total of 1,000 cinemas across 15 countries and with a combined 11,000 screens and further strengthen its position as the world’s largest cinema operator.

Meanwhile, the Nordic purchase will raise mother company Wanda Group’s holdings to 1,470 cinemas and more than 15,000 screens, bringing it one step closer to its self-declared goal to eventually control 20 percent of the global film exhibition market.

However, according to china.org.cn, the Nordic acquisition agreement is an all-cash deal that still requires antitrust clearance from the European Commission before it can come into effect.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.