by Trung Hieu
Hundreds of State-owned cinemas all over the country are now like zombies.
They are old, degraded and can't compete with modern and convenient private cinemas.
Ha Noi had nearly 20 cinemas run by the State, but today, only a few of them are still operating.
Almost all Hanoians living in the capital city's Old Quarter will recall three cinemas: Dai Dong, Long Bien and Bac Do. But today, visitors can no longer find them.
Dai Dong Cinema on Hang Cot Street has become the cultural centre of Hoan Kiem District and is also a dancing club. Its reputation retains only the name Dai Dong on a small board on the gate.
A woman selling sedge mats in front of Long Bien Cinema on 78 Hang Chieu Street recalled: "This building used to be Long Bien Cinema. But don't try to find it. The lower floor of the auditorium has become a motorcycle parking site while the upper floor is now abandoned."
Even the front of the cinema has become the trading area of several residential households.
Bac Do Cinema near the Long Bien railway bridge on Hang Giay Street was recently demolished to make way for the construction of the Hoa Mi Kindergarten.
An old man selling sundry on this street recalled: "When I was a child, I would often go to Bac Do to watch films."
"Even then, children like me had to queue all day long to buy a ticket for next week's show. But those times have gone," the old man added.
"From the 1990s, the cinema had fewer guests. Over the last 10 years, it was abandoned and later became a place for a rental business. Recently it was replaced by a kindergarten."
In the past, Ha Noi was home to famous cinemas such as Me Linh on Lo Duc Street, Kinh Do on Cua Nam Street, Thang Tam on Hang Bai Street and Dang Dung on Dang Dung Street, as well as Bach Mai on Bach Mai Street, Dong Da on Thai Thinh Street and Dan Chu on Kham Thien Street.
Except for the Thang Tam and Dan Chu cinemas that remain active, the rest are gone.
Kinh Do Cinema is now the Muzic Park entertainment complex. Me Linh Cinema still keeps the original text "Me Linh Cinema" but has actually ceased operations over the last 10 years. Its interior has been converted into a fitness centre and bar.
Dang Dung Cinema has become a rental place for stores selling mobile phone accessories, beer and handicrafts.
A mobile phone stall owner said: "The cinema staff moved away long ago. We have been renting this place for more than 10 years now."
The latest to pass away was Bach Mai Cinema, which stopped operating last August. Actually, this cinema tried to survive in the last 10 years with only two screenings every Saturday and Sunday to serve several couples. Its facade is now open for rent to karaoke and souvenir stalls.
A female vendor who sits near the cinema said: "My family lived here for years, but we never watched films in that cinema. Sometimes my whole family would drive up to Vincom Plaza on Ba Trieu Street to watch movies. Just because the cinema looks degraded now, who would believe that there was once a good cinema inside it?"
Today, people are lured by various forms of entertainment. They simply prefer to stay home and watch many interesting movies on various TV channels rather than pay money for tickets and drive their motorcycles to the cinemas.
Perhaps that's one another reason why some new cinemas also failed.
The cinemas that the Ha Noi Cinematography Company used to manage were taken over during the liberation of the capital in 1954. The degradation of the auditoriums after more than half a century with little investment has led to the failure of these cinemas to survive in the modern movie market.
However, many new cinemas that were built using the state budget in the last decades are also at risk and even had to be closed.
Ngoc Khanh Cinema, which the Viet Nam Film Institute managed, opened in the late 1990s but has stopped operating for some years. It was refinanced in 2006 in hopes that it will become a major film centre.
Its staff tried to increase the number of film screening rooms from one to three to serve more audiences and used various forms of promotion. For example, when people bought tickets, they were given free drinks and popcorn, but in spite of this, the cinema remained deserted.
By August 2014, the cinema stopped operating and was converted into other business.
Ha Noi Cinematography Company is now managing 10 cinemas in the city. Today, many of them were finally closed for lack of spectators, and their spaces are now open for rent to other businesses.
The company still manages one cinema: Thang Tam on Hang Bai Street.
In attempts to maintain its reputation as a famous cinema among Hanoians from past to present, this cinema tried to reduce ticket prices, upgrade facilities and divide its 1,200-seat cinema into five rooms for 2D and 3D screening.
But that attempt failed to change the situation. In the last three years, the audiences continued to gradually dwindle in number.
"If we keep losing like this, sooner or later, the cinema will have to be closed," admitted Ngo Phuong Lien, a company official. — VNS