By Charumini de Silva
Cinema owners yesterday described 2020 as the worst year while lamenting that they were still in the dark over reopening, as delay was piling up financial losses.
On 15 October, the Government announced that all cinemas would be closed till 31 October, as a measure to deal with the COVID-19 second wave. Thereafter, the Government is yet to give a timeline on the reopening of cinemas to the general public.
“We are eagerly awaiting the green light from the Government to resume operations post-COVID-19,” industry sources told the Daily FT.
Upon inquiry from the Cultural Affairs Ministry, a top official pointed out that they too were awaiting approval from the public health authority to resume operation of film theatres.
“We wrote to the health authorities recently and they replied that the country was now in COVID-19 Stage III and therefore we would be notified on reopening of cinemas if there was a change in the situation for the better. The Ministry also requested the health authorities recently to reconsider and we are now awaiting a positive response,” he said.
On 14 March, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa directed all film halls under the National Film Corporation (NFC) to suspend screening of films until further notice as a preventive measure to contain the spread of COVID-19. Four months later the cinemas were open to the public under strict guidelines issued by the Health Ministry. The second wave of COVID-19 dampened hopes yet again.
Industry sources said in the absence of revenue for many months cinema owners were in extreme distress. Operating expenses such as staff salaries, electricity bills, rent, maintenance charges and other administrative costs are being borne by the industry at present.
“This is the worst setback the industry has ever experienced. It is difficult to quantify the loss. We fear that there will also be a few who will be out of business very soon,” they warned.
At present there are over 200 cinema halls in the country.
“All cinema owners assured to continue to follow each Government directive, giving top priority to the health and wellbeing of their patrons. Post-lockdown with only 50% of the full seating capacity and physical distancing we resumed operations and when the Government announced the temporary closure in October we all agreed because it was in the national interest. However, at present every other sector has been allowed to resume operations except us,” they lamented.
The importers are also in a quandary over the closure despite having latest releases from Hollywood, Bollywood and Kollywood