BIG Cinemas reaches a milestone in Malaysia

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BIG Cinemas, India’s largest domestic and international cinema chain, a division of Reliance MediaWorks Ltd., reached a 500-screen milestone with the opening of its newest multiplex in Kedah, Malaysia.

BIG Cinemas has now become the third-largest cinema chain in Malaysia, playing Hollywood features as well as Chinese, Malay and Tamil films which cater to the 1.5 million people of Indian origin.

BIG was born when Reliance ADA Group acquired a controlling stake in Reliance MediaWorks in 2005. Amazingly, in a little over three years BIG Cinemas has grown to become the dominant player in the Indian domestic market, securing 240 screens across 75 Indian cities. The circuit contributes between 10 and 14% of all movie box-office in India.

Similarly, BIG Cinemas has made huge strides internationally, with more than half of its screens located in 40 cities outside India. The Indian Diaspora overseas has a strong affinity to Indian movies and BIG Cinemas has aggregated a 24-city cinema network across the U.S. that now regularly screens Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Punjabi features, in addition to Hollywood movies.

Also targeting Europe, BIG Cinemas has partnered with Pathé Theatres to begin screening Indian movies in the Netherlands.

I plan to travel to Mumbai later in December, where I will talk with Reliance Media Works CEO Anil Arjun about the fantastic growth of his company. Stay tuned for that interview.

A Prophecy in Dubai
The official opening of Reel Cinemas in the Dubai Mall, Dubai's largest cineplex, was marked by the United Arab Emirates' first digital screening of the much-awaited apocalyptic film 2012 on Screen 22, the Middle East region’s first and only THX-certified cinema hall. And the next day, Dubai's economy tanked.

Filmmakers Decry Loss of Cambodian Film Industry
Matthew Robinson, founder of Khmer Mekong Films (KMF), maintains there is no Cambodian film industry to speak of. “How can there be a film industry if there are no cinemas to show the films in?” he asks. Robinson set up KMF in 2006 with the specific intention of making quality feature films for the Cambodian market.

“At that stage, there were many more cinemas than there are now,” he says. “We thought that there was a reasonable chance that if we made quality films that appealed to the Cambodian audience, then we would get our money back. We thought there was a chance to show them internationally and take off as a film company,” he explains. “But plans change.”

According to Robinson, the film industry has collapsed partly due to the rise in real estate prices that transformed many cinemas into more profitable hotels and clubs. “Filmmakers stopped making films,” he notes. Currently, there are only two commercial cinemas left in Phnom Penh: Cinema Lux and Sorya.

“People used to crowd to Phnom Penh from the provinces to go to the cinema,” remembers veteran Cambodian film star Dy Saveth. “The industry had a lot of support from the audience,” she says. “There was only one TV channel, no karaoke, no cable TV, so there was a lot of interest in making and watching films.”

Ly Bun Yim, one of few film directors from the golden years of the Cambodian film industry who survived the Khmer Rouge, agrees: "The industry was very competitive at the time, with as many as 30 cinemas in Phnom Penh only. All producers wanted to make quality films to attract audiences. That’s why a very developed movie industry emerged,” he observes. “The actors and actresses were very skilled and very professional, not like today when many short-lived ‘stars’ are simply promoted by some rich people. Back then the stars were very famous.”

Around the World in 30 Days
The Thailand Film Office has been busy, on the road to Korea, Tokyo the USA and Seville, Spain.

First up on Oct. 12-14 was the Busan (Korea) International Film Commission & Industry Showcase (BIFCOM), where Thailand Film Office director Wanasiri Morakul and her team not only promoted Thailand's production-service industries and spectacular locations from their booth but also participated in the second Asian Film Policy Forum held by the Asian Film Commission Network (AFCnet).

The event housed 45 booths from 15 countries including Australia, Cambodia, China, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Hong Kong.

BIFCOM and AFCnet allowed participants the opportunity to assess interest, exchange information and learn from other countries ways to improve services and operations.
Then, from Oct. 18–24, Thailand Film Office staff attended the Tokyo International Film Festival, which had over 110 booths exhibiting. Filmmakers from China, Malaysia and Japan expressed an interest in filming in Thailand during 2010 to 2011, with anticipated revenue at around US$500,000.

Another team from the Thailand Film Office attended the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) annual Cineposium held at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Held Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, the event drew AFCI members from more than 20 countries for issue-oriented industry discussions and workshops. The keynote address was given by Roger Corman, who has produced more than 550 feature films and directed 50 others.

A team from the Thailand Film Office attended the first film location show in Europe, the Seville International Locations Expo, Nov. 5-8. Thailand was the only Asian country represented.

Representatives from Thailand's booth fielded many questions about filmmaking in the kingdom and expect more filmmakers to take advantage of Thailand's lower-cost production resources.

Contact Asia-Pacific bureau chief Scott Rosenberg with your news items at (662) 982-4525, by fax at (662) 982-4526, or by e-mail at scott.rosenberg@gmail.com.