Re-nationalization will harm Sri Lanka films again: Industry pioneer

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s plan to re-nationalize film distribution in Sri Lanka signals a return to a failed era and will cripple the industry which is already facing competition from online platforms, Ceylon Threatres group, an industry pioneer has warned.

"As we look back over the past, it appears that the movie industry has turned a full cycle, with the proposal to effectively nationalize the distribution of movies in Sri Lanka," CT Holdings Chairman Louis Page told his shareholders in the annual report.

"The previous period of nationalization of the import and distribution on movies from the 1970s to 2000 was not a successful one and we fear that a return to the distribution of movies by the National Film Corporation would herald a similar period of instability and downturn."

Ceylon Theatres set up in 1928 operates movie theatres and was a pioneer domestic film producer of hit films before state interventions retarded the industry. In 1956 it set up Ceylon Studios starting domestic production. Hit fims produced by the group include ‘Golu Hadwatha’ and ‘Nidhanaya’.

Unlike in the 1970s cinema halls in particular are facing competition not only from television but online platforms.

"At a time when the digital and online media platforms are making giant strides, bringing restrictions of any sort will only further cripple the industry, obstruct new investments and cause its eventual demise," Page said.

Page said that policy makers may have good intentions but interventions should be made after talks with stakeholders.

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"We do appreciate some of the good intentions of the policy makers in proposing these changes," he said.

"However, these should take account of not only the present situation but also the future as well."

"We hope that this matter would be further discussed and the concerns of all parties taken into consideration prior to the same being implemented."

The government on July 03 issued a gazette nationalize film distribution and screening in Sri Lanka giving a state-run National Film Corporation and final powers to its politically appointed chairman.

A group of commisars representing the fields of anthropology, psychology, environmentalism, ‘educationology’, technology, business management, medicine and three other academics will decide whether the film has "classical-attractive", "commercial-attractive" or combination of attractiveness.

In countries with successful film industries viewers decide which film is better while critics also provide early guidance, providing an incentive to produce better films.

A scheduling committee, which will also include industry representatives will schedule the films.

However a ‘specific’ film could be screened outside the procedure taken for normal films.

Importers should get written permission from the Chairman of the NFC before bringing down films. (Colombo/July26/2019)