by An Vu and Ngoc Diep
As most of us enter adulthood, one of the things that we encounter is the gradual disappearance of a habit, a place or a thing we loved as children.
The shutdown of Dan Chu (Democracy) Cinema in November, last year, which was built in the 1950s' is one such thing that has caused such turbulent emotions in those for whom this cinema was a part of their childhood.
The shutdown of the cinema reminds me of the same scenario as happened in Italian film Cinema Paradiso, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 62nd Academy Awards.
Dan Chu was opened in 1954, with 326 seats, a 300 inch-wide screen and vault sound. Since that time, it has become a cultural icon of many of the capital's citizens.
The cinema was once under the management of Ha Noi Cinema Co Ltd. From 2003, the cinema came under the ownership of a South Korean director. At that time, Dan Chu was considered the first cinema of Ha Noi to be in the forefront for renewal.
However, what has shocked, saddened and confused loyal cinema fans is the status update on Dan Chu fan page on Facebook, of the de-activation of the 211, Kham Thien Street's building, and the apologies issued to the audience for their support. The confusion arose because just two days earlier several viewers had come to watch movies there and noticed nothing untoward.
Tran Huyen Nga, who lives in an alley next to Dan Chu, and currently studying abroad, said she was shocked to learn that the cinema was forced to stop operations.
"When I was a little girl, my father took me to this cinema frequently. Most of my childhood memories revolved around it, which at that time was plainly decorated with pulling doors and wooden chairs. After 2000, the theatre was under repairs and becoming more modern. I recall the cinema was so well-known that if I was asked where I lived, I would proudly say it was next to Dan Chu cinema," Nga recalled.
However, when two of the largest multiplex cinema chains of South Korea, Megastar, later on sold to CJ CGV, and Lotte jumped in, and started to corner the domestic movie market, a series of single screen movie theatres were pushed to the brink of closure.
Since 2006, as the inceptive concept of a cineplex, a movie theatre with several separate screens initiated by Megastar, Galaxy and BHD officially took shape in Viet Nam, the yearly turnover from film viewership has mostly gone into the pockets of these tycoons.
According to a statistic released in Ha Noi, the number of movie goers to Galaxy Cinema reached 450,000 annually, which was 1.5 times higher the average viewing in single screen movie theatres. For CGV, the rate is 600,000 times per year, double the average.
In a recent meeting of the Viet Nam Cinema Department on film distribution, it was concluded that as movie networks from private corporations have been chosen as the number one choice of audiences, because of their huge projection rooms, and sound and technology systems which meet international standards, they should be awarded the exclusive rights to screen foreign blockbusters.
It is believed, this is the reason single screen movie theatres run by Ha Noi Cinema MTV Co Ltd are at a disadvantage.
Even Dan Chu, the brainchild of a private entrepreneur, could not help but share the same destiny due to loss in its capital and the decline in its popularity.
Movie director Dang Thai Huyen said it was a great loss for the citizens in the capital to lose such a memorable cinema hall.
"When I was 9, my mother took me to Dan Chu to watch my first movie. I will never forget the time I sat on the hard wooden chairs instead of the cushion seats today, but it brings back sweet memories of the cinema which was closely related to our generation's childhood. It is one that we can never bring back and our children will never have the chance to see," Huyen said.
Under the de-activation status of the cinema on Facebook, most of the comments expressed their shock, sadness and regret for the death of this symbol.
"So sad, I have been a loyal viewer of Dan Chu for ten years. I have also got addicted to popcorn here for a long time. Why such a brusque move?" a viewer with a pseudonym, Tran Ngoc Nga, asked.
Another viewer with the pseudonym Nguyen Quynh Trang, said that she did not believe the information was real. "Why so suddenly? I have just learnt about the movie schedule for next week, and now I receive this news. The cinema is like my old friend. I do not know what to say right now!"
Many years ago before Dan Chu, a series of single screen cinema houses such as Dai Dong, Me Linh, Bach Mai, and Dang Dung had also been turned into a nightclub, fast food restaurants, or a liquor bar.
As a film lover, during my high school years, I watched several movies in Dan Chu, and in June 2015, I was there, for what is now, the last time. I cannot help but wonder why the cinema was shut down, even after it had just been upgraded with more modern equipment, not to mention its favourable location.
According to a movie expert, the death of Dan Chu was foreseen, as its marketing and PR proceeds were not strongly invested, when pitted against CJ CGV or Lotte. Also, the small vision has killed this cinema.
Meanwhile, the cinema manager refused to say anything regarding its shutdown.
So, perhaps the opening of more modern and high-end movie theatres are a necessity in this fast-changing society today, but for those belonging to the golden age of cinema the single screen cinema will forever remain in people's hearts. — VNS