The sudden decision to take the distribution of local films under the purview of the National Film Corporation (NFC) is highly talked and debated. Prior to the decision, the distribution of local films was handled by five agents, including the National Film Corporation (Rithma Circuit), and four private companies such as EAP Films and Theaters Pvt. Limited (EAP), Movie Producers and Importers Pvt. Limited (MPI), Cinema Entertainment Pvt. Limited (CEL) and Lanka Film Distributors Pvt. Limited (LFD).
The National Film Corporation was the responsible body for film distribution from 1972 to 2001. Then, the private sector was granted the authority regarding film distribution at the dawn of the 20th century under the Government circular in 1997 (DMS 360/NFC/P). The private sector had been carrying out the distribution of films for 18 years.
The private sector had the larger share in terms of distributing local films despite the shares that the NFC possessed. With the ups and downs in the cinema industry, concerns were raised on the grounds that the private companies, who had the authority over the distribution of films distribution, hadn’t been effective nor efficient in the task they undertook.
However, the issue has to be looked at from different viewpoints to portray the real picture of the distribution of films.
NFC ‘spoint of view
When the Daily Mirror spoke to NFC Chairman Sithendra Senaratne, he said that President Maithripala Sirisena had appointed a Committee comprising Scholars to look into the issues pertaining to the Sri Lanka film industry.
“Accordingly, the committee made 15 recommendations out of which one main recommendations was that since the distribution of local films handled by the private sector isn’t done efficiently, its role has to be revised with immediate effect,” Senaratne said.
According to Senaratne the President had ordered the relevant authorities to work on the recommendations. “There was a series of discussions with the then subject Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara and even with the subject Minister in office Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. The final discussion was held on June 18 with the participation of film directors, producers, theatre owners and representatives of film distributing private companies,” Senaratne added. Senaratne said that the theatre owners strongly raised their voices against the inefficiencies with regard to films distribution. They had said that the distribution of films wasn’t done in a sensible manner, hence the industry facing inconveniences. Senaratne said that a couple of theatre owners, who wished to remain anonymous, had emphasized that they have been subject to injustice. This is due to the monopoly present in the distribution of films. Theatre owners had said that the distribution of films should come under the purview of the government.
“There are 177 film halls in Sri Lanka out of which 64 are operated by the NFC (Rithma Circuit) whereas the rest (113) are operated by the private sector,” Senaratne added. They had opined that the distribution of films should come under the purview of the Corporation and be regulated with appropriate remedies.
“We firmly believe that we will be able to offer a satisfactory service in distributing films and work towards the uplifting of the Sri Lanka cinema industry,” Senaratne added.
Fury of ‘then’ film distributors
The film distributors are vehemently against this lopsided decision to place the distribution of local films under the purview of the NFC.
Film producer Sunil T. Fernando said during a news briefing that NFC’s decision would further put the film industry in jeopardy.
“Film distributors are exposed to a massive risk as a result of this decision. The NFC didn’t consult us before they took the decision. We, as people who have a passion for the Sri Lanka film industry, oppose this decision,” Fernando opined. Fernando said that the NFC is currently making a colossal loss. “It owes us millions. At the same time, there are more than 80 films which are yet to be released. Given such a situation how could we place our trust on the NFC,” asked Fernando.
Fernando acknowledged that there had been injustices caused in terms of exhibiting and the distribution of films.
should point out where we have gone wrong, says EAP
EAP Executive Director Kasun Jayawardhane said they couldn’t fathom as to why the NFC accuses the private sector of being inefficient. We have been doing the film distribution to a satisfactory extent.
“It is unfair to say that the film industry is confronted with these issues due to the mismanagement of the private sector. If the NFC says that we are inefficient, give us an opportunity to mete out justice and carry out film distribution in a better way,” Jayawardhane said.
New association to lobby against NFC’s move
Sri Lanka’s film theatre owners, managers and film producers formed a new association called Lanka United Film Producers, Distributers & Exhibitors Association to lobby against the move made by the NFC.
It was unanimously decided to form a new association for the industry comprising key people representing three sectors such as private film distributors, film exhibitors and film producers to address the key issues of the film industry as a joint forum.
The new association is expected to meet the President and the subject Minister to discuss the consequences to the film industry regarding the taking of this decision without consulting film industry experts.
The NFC taking on the authority of film distribution would help uplift the film industry
Film distributors are exposed to a massive risk as a result of this decision
SUNIL T. FERNANDO
The film industry is plagued by considerable issues
The NFC should point out where we have gone wrong
We firmly believe that we will be able to offer a satisfactory service in distributing films
Enjoining order over NFC’s decision
The Colombo District Court issued an enjoining order, valid till July 12, preventing the National Film Corporation from taking over the task of distributing local films. This is following a complaint lodged by the EAP, CEL, MPI and LFD film circuits.
However, Higher Education & Cultural Affairs Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said submissions would be filed on the enjoining order issued by the Colombo District Court.
“The decision taken to allow the NFC to handle film distribution was taken on the grounds that the private sector created a monopoly which has led to a catastrophe in the Cinema Industry. We want to protect the film industry and for that we need the cooperation of all stakeholders,” Rajapakshe told at a news conference. He said that they had had a series of discussions with President Sirisena regarding the issue. The president had promised to render his support and also grant tax concessions to the film industry.
Film directors voice their concerns
Film director Bennett Rathnayake said that the decision taken by the NFC was timely and applicable.
“The film industry is plagued by considerable issues. If this decision is to be productive a separate monitoring body or unit should be formed at the NFC,” Rathnayake said.
“It’s fitting to form a new unit at the NFC comprising 12 or 15 persons who are equipped with the latest technology and administrative knowledge,” Rathnayake added. “It would be more convenient to introduce an E-Ticket option (electronic ticket) which would ease the process of issuing tickets,” Rathnayake said.
He called upon the NFC to maintain accepted standards when making films.
Meanwhile, director and script writer Somaratne Dissanayake told at a news briefing held recently that the decision taken by the NFC was an optimistic move. “This would revive the Sri Lanka film industry. The NFC isn’t as inefficient as it used to be in the early 20s. I hope the NFC has the potential to take on this responsibility and render a better service to the film industry,” Dissanayake added.
Views of artistes
Veteran actor Ravindra Randeniya said at a media briefing that he was totally opposed to the film distribution being handled by the private sector because it had caused the downfall of the film industry.
“The monopoly created by the private sector is the root cause of the prevailing crisis in the film industry. The NFC taking on the authority of film distribution would help uplift the film industry,” Randeniya said.
Randeniya popped the question that given the private sector had generated an income between Rs.200-300 million annually through film distribution since 2001, whether it has spent one rupee to upgrade the film industry in Sri Lanka?
Ace comedian Tennyson Cooray told the Daily Mirror that transferring the authority regarding film distribution would not bring about a solution to the problems in the industry and ensure its progress. “What I suggest is that the industry requires a new start. Everybody who is connected to the cinema and has a passion for it should work towards its welfare,” Cooray opined.
It is important to note that what matters is not who undertakes the responsibility of distributing films, but to ensure that it is done in a way that there is progress in the Sri Lanka film industry.
Pix by Damith Wickramasinghe and Kushan Pathiraja