Prolonged closures may really spell end of Malaysian cinemas, film distributors tell govt

John Bunyan
·3-min read
A permanently shuttered GSC Berjaya Times Square following forced extended closure brought about by government measures during the MCO, February 22, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
A permanently shuttered GSC Berjaya Times Square following forced extended closure brought about by government measures during the MCO, February 22, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 22 — The Malaysian Association of Film Exhibitors (MAFE) today accused the government of “unfair treatment” by forcing cinemas to remain shut despite allowing other non-essential services to reopen during the movement control order (MCO).

It said the forced closure of movie theatres nationwide is crippling the Malaysian cinema industry, adding that over a quarter of operators are now out of business.

“The cinema industry has already lost up to 90 per cent of revenue year-on-year and more than RM500 million in total losses incurred in the year 2020 alone.

“It is a stark contrast compared with previous years where the industry has collectively contributed over RM1.08 billion in income and over RM250 million in entertainment tax duties to the country,” MAFA said in a statement.

It said that the forced shutdowns have resulted in countless job losses, permanent closures of cinema locations, and a significant downsizing of operations for all exhibitors across the board.

“By far, the biggest loss, however, has been the exit of the country’s third largest exhibitor, MBO Cinemas, which has been forced into voluntary liquidation.

“In totality, over 25 per cent of cinema screens all over the country have been permanently shuttered due to the long-term closures,” it said.

MAFE said the collapse of the industry has directly impacted the livelihoods of the larger local Malay film industry, where over 20,000 Malaysians are currently employed in filmmaking and production, creatives, distribution, talent, and much more.

It also pointed out that the RM225 million allocated to fund and support the arts, culture, and entertainment in June 2020 excluded cinemas.

Budget 2021 tabled last November allocated RM100 million as a booster for the creative industry, but cinemas were once again exempted from this aid.

“To date, cinema operators have not yet obtained any other form of financial or stimulus packages from the total RM325 million that has been set aside for the creative industry by the government,” MAFE said.

It insisted that cinemas are safe, pointing out that there had been no Covid-19 cluster traced to cinemas, and urged the government to reconsider its forced closure.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, cinema operators have followed an established set of stringent standard operating procedures (SOP) guidelines from authorities, which includes mandatory contact tracing, temperature checks, and social distancing.

“Additionally, exhibitors have invested into thorough and frequent sanitation after every show, personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, as well as the provisions of alcohol hand rubs for customers.

“Even while cinemas are closed, operators also continue daily maintenance of seats and equipment; expenditures that are becoming too overwhelming to bear without income,” MAFE said.

It pointed to a study conducted by Celluloid Junkie last October that claimed no Covid-19 clusters had been traced to cinemas worldwide, to back its assertion.

It also urged the government to follow Singapore’s practice and allow families from the same house to sit together side-by-side, with a single seat gap between every two seats if and when cinemas finally reopen.

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