The COVID-19 pandemic has already gripped the entire world triggering a major health and economic crisis. No sector has been spared by the catastrophic and horrific effects of this pandemic but when will we see an end to this crisis? The world will slowly but surely limp back to normalcy in weeks or months to come. But where will entertainment or cinema in particular figure in the list of priorities, when it comes to restoring normalcy?
Of course, cinema halls will also have to implement containment measures, maintain social distancing and fall in line with other precautionary measures when they start reopening. Besides the employment and economic factors, cinema plays a huge and influential role in terms of social well-being. So, it is an industry that cannot be overlooked or disregarded.
To begin this series on how the novel Coronavirus would impact our cinema industry, we spoke to two key film producers Renuka Balasuriya and Basuru Siriwardana.
Renuka Balasuriya produced the movie ‘Tsunami’ that began to draw large crowds to cinemas when COVID-19 wreaked havoc.
On the other hand, Basuru Siriwardana on behalf of Alankulama Films, produced the landmark movie ‘Kathuru Mithuru’ which was slotted for release when cinemas were ordered to shut down.
Renuka Balasuriya said the Coronavirus pandemic which has devastated the lifestyles of people in almost all countries, has not spared Sri Lanka.
“As a film producer in Sri Lanka, who had to undergo unfortunate phases due to this crisis, I must also highlight the fact that there are four entities who benefit from the running of a film in Sri Lanka. That is the producer, the cinema halls, the film corporation and the government by way of local government body taxes. But when we as producers face a calamity of this nature, it is only the producer who has to face the music all by her or himself. The other partners in profit are nowhere during such bad times. I think this is where a film producer is victimised and pushed into during extreme times,” said Renuka adding that despite the size of the cinema industry, it is also making a contribution to the country’s national economy.
“Nobody can be blamed for this natural catastrophe. But this is a time to ponder whether we have emerged as an industry that produced professionals. If so, why should artistes be given aid and doles just when the country goes through a curfew clamped for just over a month? In other parts of the world film industries are being looked after as per rules and regulations of those countries. Artistes and film industry personnel are looked after. Our so-called film industry has a lot to learn from those countries. Even the government sits up and ponders on restoring other industries but not our cinema. Tragically, nobody has so far recognised our cinema as an industry. That is why individual film producers like us have to take the whole brunt.”
“I have so far not recieved a cent as returns from the screening of Tsunami. The monies might be lying with cinema halls or the circuits. It is the producer who has to keep on pumping in money. Now when halls reopen, will these factors be considered? Will producers be given a longer screening time? Will the government or NFC intervene to help producers get concessions for state and private sector TV commercials? Will all these sectors act ethically when giving us a hand to run our film which was stalled by Corona? Will the government act fast to regulate things and give our film industry a proper structure and ease the producer from shouldering the full burden? Will all stakeholders who share the benefits from movie screenings also play their roles fairly and morally?
Nobody can be blamed for this natural catastrophe. But this is a time to ponder whether we have emerged as an industry that produced professionals. If so, why should artistes be given aid and doles just when the country goes through a curfew clamped for just over a month?
Young Basuru Siriwardana who makes his debut as a full time film producer with ‘Kathuru Mithuru’, is the son of the late, reputed film producer Dhammika Siriwardana who founded Alankulama Films which produced some
Basuru’s film was almost to be released when cinema halls were ordered to close down. But this ambitious guy, like his father, says he will brave all odds to see that the movie is released as soon as cinema halls are reopened.
“As a producer I also feel the hardships faced by cinema hall owners too during this crisis period. They have to upkeep their premises, pay salaries and repay loans taken for refurbishing. Things would be much harder for them if no good films are screened in those theatres. So, I decided to screen my movie at the first available opportunity. I don’t want to wait and watch. Surely, cinema halls will come under scrutiny and under health and other surveillance before reopening. Yet I believe film halls should be reopened in phases, giving space for health and other authorities to maintain strict safety measures,” said Basuru.
“When reopening cinemas, I believe that the National Film Corporation would have a bigger role to play. The current film corporation chairman Jayantha Dharmadasa has helped my father Dhammika Siriwardana too and I am sure he will use his good offices to streamline film screenings again under proper guidelines. I think the health sector and the government sectors have to play a crucial role before deciding to reopen cinemas. I feel all cinemas have to be fumigated and an all-clear certificate has to be given to such cinemas so that the confidence levels of patrons would be boosted. If not, patrons will drift towards other options to watch movies, resulting in a major blow to mainstream cinema. Watching movies can certainly soothe the mind-sets of people who have been virtually going through difficult times. So it is up to the authorities to create such an atmosphere for the people to come back to cinemas,” he said.
“We as producers have invested in big money in films because of the passion but at the same time we do not want to take huge financial risks. The government, film corporation and other stakeholders should ensure that film producers are given a reasonable time frame to screen their movies, considering the sacrifices they have made and the risks they have taken. It is only then that we will come back to make another movie,” he said underlining the fact that producers must be protected because a film industry will not exist if producers don’t make movies.
As a producer I also feel the hardships faced by cinema hall owners too during this crisis period. They have to upkeep their premises, pay salaries and repay loans taken for refurbishing.
Text :Ramesh Uvais
(Next week: Ruwan Jayasinghe and Priyantha Colombage)