Asia-Pacific multiplexing momentum continues

Columns

Back in November 2008, I wrote in this column: “Nearly 20 years ago, two enterprising companies, Australia's Village Roadshow and Hong Kong's Golden Harvest, decided to capitalize on the multiplex movement that was well-entrenched in more developed exhibition markets by building multi-screen movie theatres throughout Asia. It was a novel idea at the time, joint-venturing with local concerns to build modern movie theatres with the most technologically advanced sight and sound equipment. The Golden Village brand swept like wildfire throughout the region, offering the newly emerging middle classes in Asian countries an opportunity to experience some of Hollywood's finest."

Now, as the 20th anniversary of Asian multiplexing looms, it is still "spreading like wildfire," led by developments in China and India.

Orange Sky Golden Harvest, which in December 2009 had 28 theatres with 223 screens across Asia, has gone from one theatre with seven screens in China to six complexes with a total of 43 screens by the end of September 2010. The circuit expects to have 16 cinema complexes with 114 screens operational by the end of 2010 and 24 complexes with 177 screens by the end of the first quarter of 2011.

Also in China, state-owned companies China Film Group Corporation and Shanghai Film Group Corporation continue to accelerate the building of cinemas and cinema circuits in anticipation of going public.

Even South Korea's largest multiplex cinema chain, CJ CGV, is getting into the action in China, partnering with IMAX to install 15 new theatres there by 2015.

In a Sept. 29 article in China Daily, IMAX chief executive officer Richard Gelfond said that China is certainly the company's fastest-growing market and that he expects to see 250 IMAX theatres in the country within the next five years.

In another part of the region, Big Cinema, a division of Reliance MediaWorks and a member of Reliance ADA Group, has become India’s largest cinema chain with over 540 screens spread across India, the U.S., Malaysia, Nepal and the Netherlands. The circuit caters to over 35 million consumers and continues to grow, taking in US$34 million in Q2 2010 alone.

Swinging into celebration of another year gone by at CineAsia in Hong Kong, we note with pride and some astonishment the continued growth of the exhibition industry in Asia.

Join me back here in a couple of years (and every month until then) as Asia continues to celebrate its multiplexing boom.

Cambodian Fest Debuts
The first annual Cambodian International Film Festival, hosted by the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and endorsed by UNESCO, was held Oct. 21-23. More than 100 international and Khmer films were screened at Lux Cinema, Chenla Theater, Bophana Center and Le Cinema at CCF, and outdoors at Golden Sorya Market and Diamond Island.

A Cinema Industry Showcase at Diamond Island served as the official expo of the festival, with booths of local production companies and displays of upcoming projects, as well as the latest equipment, products and services available for making and exhibiting movies in Cambodia.

Precinct Reps Azerbaijan
The feature film The Precinct was selected by the national committee of Azerbaijan for submission to the 83rd Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

A mystery/drama set in Baku, Azerbaijan, The Precinct is a co-production of Azerbaijan’s Narimanfilm and Georgia’s Georgianfilm and Bagira Films. The story centers on a famous Azeri photographer who chooses a valuable job offer in Africa over marrying his fiancée. During an ensuing quarrel, the photographer and his fiancée have a car accident. They later find themselves in a police precinct, where the photographer has to come to terms with his dread of women. The film opens on Dec. 3 at the Sunset Laemmle 5 in Los Angeles.

Reviving an Afghan Cinema
In a break from war news in Afghanistan, The Christian Science Monitor earlier this year reported that in the provincial capital of Helmand Province, where NATO forces wage their biggest offensives against the Taliban, one structure near the town’s center stands as a testament to more normal times. Locals are reopening the Lashkar Gah Cinema Hall, the only movie theatre in all of southern Afghanistan. For years it sat damaged by numerous conflicts and was shuttered by Islamic extremists. Its resurrection is hoped to bring a rebirth of artistic expression in this restive corner of the country.

The cinema’s past is a window into Afghanistan’s turbulent history. The hall opened in the 1960s, the last era of peace, and became an instant success. People traveled for miles to watch Indian, Iranian and occasionally American films.

During the Russian occupation, films were brought in by air because the ground route was too dangerous. After the fall of the Soviet-backed government in 1992, the mujahedeen's arrival to power heralded a new era of destruction and conservatism. They also closed theatres throughout the country, deeming them “un-Islamic.”

The Monitor quotes local resident Ghulam Farouq as saying, “It was a time of chaos. We were afraid to say openly that we enjoyed cinema. There was no government, just warlords and looters."

When the Taliban took over in 1994, they ousted the mujahedeen from power, but extended their conservative doctrines. In addition to cinema, music and other arts were banned. They converted the cinema house to a station for Radio Sharia (the term for “Islamic law”), the government’s main news outlet.

To counter lingering opposing sentiments of residents, the present government in Helmand at first plans to use the center mainly for poetry readings and performances, with only the occasional film.

Contact Scott Rosenberg with relevant news stories at prdivision@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @scott_cos.