Domestic cinema faces challenges ahead: expert

January 02, 2019 - 09:00

Over the past 10 years, Việt Nam’s cinema market has developed strongly, becoming one of the hottest in the world. Dr Ngô Phương Lan, a film critic and former director of the Cinema Department, shares her views about cinema socialisation.

Dr Ngô Phương Lan
Viet Nam News

Over the past 10 years, Việt Nam’s cinema market has developed strongly, becoming one of the hottest in the world. Although the sector is recognised as a successful example in the implementation of its socialisation programme, it faces inevitable challenges. Ngô Phương Lan, a film critic and former director of the Cinema Department, shares her views about cinema socialisation.

What results have been achieved in cinema socialisation over the past 20 years?

In the field of art and literature socialisation, cinema is the sector that implemented the programme earlier than others, thus it has achieved the most results. In 1989, the sector entered the market mechanism under State management. Since then, it has built a real film market.

In 2000, revenue from movie screenings in Việt Nam stood at just US$2 million, but by 2017, there were 757 movie theatres operating across the country, bringing in total turnover of more than VNĐ3.2 billion (roughly $138 million). The country’s domestic film market is developing quickly compared to others in the region and the world.

However, we should evaluate the process of implementing cinema socialisation objectively. Socialisation is not just about financial sources but it should be how to create quality products and help producers, writers and actors become central in society.

Socialisation should preserve the artistic values in society to leave to future generations.

This may likely result in some consequences if we do not solve some issues which could harm our spiritual and cultural lives and effect the tastes of the audience.

Many people in the sector thought that we are making our national cinema fade away in the process of socialisation. Some even said current cinema is “clinically dead” as there are now only commercial films produced by private enterprises. What is your view about the issue?

Any change will have positives and negatives. Cinema has two parts: producing and showing. In terms of producing, if we do not implement socialisation but just rely on orders, there wouldn’t be any movies made in the last few years because the State has stopped subsidies in film production.

In terms of showing, the problem is the same. If we do not implement the socialisation programme in film production and showing, there would not be many modern movie theatres.

Currently, the National Cinema Centre is the only State-owned movie theatre that could meet the high standards of modern film screenings while all others (State-owned) are equipped with very outdated projection systems even though the whole world has changed to digital technology since 2013. Thus, if there was no socialization, meaning no films and film screening, cinema would have actually died rather than "clinically" died like you mentioned.

Is there a solution for our cinema industry to both promote a large amount of financial sources while maintaining national movies ensuring comprehensive development?

The Cinema Department has recently proposed some models to socialise the cinema industry.

The movie Tôi Thấy Hoa Vàng Trên Cỏ Xanh (Yellow Flowers on Green Grass) is a good example of successful socialisation in the film sector, which includes 30 per cent capital invested by the State and 70 per cent by private investment. With more than VNĐ8 billion of State investment, after one month of screening, this film registered nearly VNĐ80 billion revenue. It was a very effective model of socialisation. The film has met all standards of artistic quality thus it has become very popular.

As a result, if it is encouraged, this trend will create not only a film but a flow of films that will have a very good effect on art and society. However, after that film, the State’s funding sources were exhausted. From 2015, cinema socialisation has to be switched to the law on filming. Accordingly, producing and showing films with financial sources from the State budget must go through a bidding process. This causes problem without a solution for the sector.

Moreover, in the filming law, the establishment of a Cinema Development Fund is also mentioned to support art and experimental films since 2016. However a plan to form such a fund was rejected many times when it was submitted to superiors because there was no stable input. A proposal of an extract from the movie release revenue as an input for the fund was also entangled with other regulations, so it cannot be done.

Many are worried about private businesses controlling film distribution while imported films are widespread. Đặng Nhật Minh, a well-known movie director, has even commented saying it is “a beetle which is gnawing social morality". Do we have any solutions in directing movie releases?

In the past, we were not aware of the importance of national cinema, so we opened the door to imported films. There was no quota at all. Meanwhile, other countries in the region were very clear in promulgating a quota in the film industry. National cinema then had to confront powerful competitors who are foreign investors thus it was extremely hard for the domestic film industry at that time.

Another problem is that while many countries only allow for their domestic enterprises to invest in building cinemas, Việt Nam is open to all foreign businesses in the field.

Foreign investors with large and long-term investment capital and experience have dominated our market. What are the consequences? Currently, foreign enterprises own over 60 per cent of movie theatres all over the country while the Vietnamese are getting weaker and less competitive.

Finding technical barriers and solving problems is extremely difficult. However, we must not be too pessimistic because it is a worldwide trend. Hollywood has actually already dominated the world. Even in France, every year, State sponsors the production of about 150 films but only takes 32 per cent of the market.

In Việt Nam, we have recently achieved a share of about 30 per cent. The problem is that we have to increase our inner strength. It means that domestic films must be good, attractive, be able to convey human and artistic values so that they can confront foreign films.

We cannot maintain the mechanism of subsidies as in the past because that is not relevant to the current trend of social development. The artists themselves have to change their thinking, their way of doing and acting. It is not suitable now to undertake the old perspective of creation, the old way of thinking from decades ago. If you do so, you will not be able to gain support from the public. — VNS