By Charumini de Silva
Cinema stakeholders hailed the Government’s decision to officially grant ‘industry’ status, but said they were awaiting more clarity on the move, as details on how it would benefit them were yet to be disclosed.
The proposal to this effect was jointly submitted by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as the Cultural Affairs Minister and Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa was granted approval by the Cabinet of Ministers this week.
“The contribution of the cinema industry to the GDP stood at Rs. 1.9 billion in 2019,” Cabinet Co-Spokesman and Mass Media Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said at the post-Cabinet meeting media briefing.
He also pointed out that the recognition of the Indian cinema industry dominated by Bollywood had played a key role in its current success, similar to most other countries.
The Daily FT spoke to a number of film exhibitors, distributors, importers, directors, producers and writers, all of whom welcomed the progressive move by the Cabinet of Ministers to recognise the country’s cinema trade as an industry with a view to promote and gain international recognition for the sector.
“We are extremely happy with the decision taken by the Government in this crucial time post-pandemic. The Prime Minister Rajapaksa has always been very supportive of the film industry and this was a plea of the industry for the past several decades, but authorities turned a deaf ear to it,” Liberty Cinemas Ltd. Managing Director Imthiaz J. Cader said.
He said the move would pave the way to attract more investments and expand the industry in the future.
Cader also expressed hope that the Government would consult the industry stakeholders and include proposals to liberalise the film industry in Sri Lanka.
Film Director, Producer, and Screenwriter Udayakantha Warnasuriya described the decision as a great victory for Sri Lanka’s cinema industry, which was long overdue.
“This is something industry stakeholders have been lobbying for, for decades. We hope the decision will allow the cinema trade to grow as a stronger industry to be able to be recognised in international cinema,” he added.
Warnasuriya also pointed out that stakeholders would be allowed to grow financiers and investors whilst producers would have more freedom to fund creations.
“The status as an industry will provide banks a better case to facilitate the future projects at lower interest rates. This will also grant us a concessionary rate for electricity as given to other industries,” Warnasuriya said.
Lanka Film Distributors Ltd. Chairman Rakith Sugathadasa, while appreciating the decision, however said that it was perhaps too late.
“The decision will help all stakeholders engaged in the industry. However, I’m concerned if we are too late; of the 200 cinemas we had, only 100 have survived post-pandemic,” he added.
Sugathadasa also said that he hoped the Government would update the Film Corporation Act of 1971 to promote and develop the industry on par with international standards.
Ben Holdings Group Director Seelan Jeyaseelan commended the Cabinet decision and said that they were awaiting more clarity as implications for stakeholders had not been spelled out yet.
“We have to wait and see till the decision is gazetted to make further comment,” he asserted.