Vietnam state-owned cinema project could waste a lot of money, experts fear

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  Vuon Lai, a state-owned cinema in Ho Chi Minh City

Experts are urging caution over a government project to build and upgrade more than 100 state-owned cinema houses by 2020, saying it can end up being a huge waste of money.

Director Ha Son told Thanh Nien that the government should conduct market surveys "carefully," before launching the project, because with over 100 cinemas to be built and upgraded, supply will exceed demand.

It is also necessary to clarify if Vietnam can afford the project, because it will cost a lot of money, Son said.

The project is part of a bigger plan approved earlier this year to build and upgrade theaters, cinemas and art galleries across the country with a total investment of VND10.8 trillion (US$502.56 million).

Under the plan, Vietnam will build 57 cinemas and upgrade 49 existing ones.

The government has explained the need for the project saying cinemas are becoming lucrative for investors in Vietnam, as demand for watching movies in cinemas is increasing, mostly in big cities.

Local cinemas recorded sales of  $35 million in 2011, and this increased to $47 million last year.

Another reason put forward by the government is that the cinema houses are needed to secure the prevalence of local movies.

It explained that most of cinemas doing well at the moment are owned by private companies or foreign corporations that prioritize foreign movies.

Vietnamese movies now account for less than 13.4 percent of movies screened, the government has said.

However, director Son found the rationale unconvincing.

He said it was not clear if the government planned the project "to educate people about films or seek profit."

If the government wants to invest in state-owned cinemas just to screen Vietnamese movies, then the project is "infeasible," because Vietnam had passed the time when audiences had no choice but to watch whatever was screened, even "old and boring" films, Son said.

"People have the right to choose what they want to eat. So, cinemas must be like restaurants that provide them with good food."

Also raising her concerns about the project's feasibility, scriptwriter Nguyen Thi Hong Ngat advised the government to tackle the fact that most state-owned cinemas are doing badly, instead of building new ones.

Located in the center of Hanoi, the Ngoc Khanh Cinema, for instance, sees almost no moviegoers, even during summer the peak season.

With four screens and 530 seats, the cinema screens films that have been shown in other cinemas several months earlier.

Another downtown cinema in the capital, Dang Dung has been inactive for such a long time that many people who live nearby did not remember that it exists when speaking to Thanh Nien.

Several cinemas in Ho Chi Minh City, like Cau Bong, Quoc Thanh and Vinh Quang, have been closed after running at a loss for a long time and replaced with cafés, bookstores and restaurants.

Others cinemas like Tan Son Nhat and Fafilm are dying and mainly screening old movies.

According to official figures, 72 of 97 operational cinemas in Vietnam are owned by the state.

Meanwhile, investors in popular private cineplexes like Galaxy, Megastar and BHD have said that they are willing to build more modern cinemas that screen both foreign and local productions to help develop the Vietnamese film industry, as long as the government supports them with preferential policies.

Actress Hong Anh, director of Blue Productions, told Thanh Nien that to develop the film industry, the government should play the role of a supporter by issuing policies, instead of directly intervening in the market by putting money into state-owned cinemas.

Not to mention that without clear direction and careful studies on the cinemas' profitability, the investment will be a waste of money which actually comes from taxes paid by people, Anh said.

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