Here in Malaysia, cinemas across the country are still forced to remain close throughout the Movement Control Order (MCO), which might end on 4th March 2021. What’s unfair about this is that several other economic sectors were announced to be reopened which includes non-essential services such as gyms, casinos, spas, and even recreational fishing. It begs the question as to why cinemas here are still closed but other recreational activities are permitted to run as usual. However, other neighbouring Asian countries such as Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia as well as other developed Asian nations like South Korea and Japan have allowed cinemas to operate again. Even India just reopened its movie theaters with 100% capacity.
At this rate, the forced attempt in keeping Malaysian cinemas closed is damaging the country’s cinema industry. It has already lost up to 90% revenue year-on-year. In 2020, more than RM500 million in total losses were garnered last year itself. Things aren’t looking so good here. Moreover, the industry has such a sharp contrast compared with previous years, where it has contributed to the income of over RM1.08 billion and over RM250 million in entertainment tax duties to Malaysia.
It’s already been a year since these continued closures of Malaysian cinemas since the first MCO last March in 2020. People have lost their jobs, cinema locations were permanently closed, and downsizing of operations for all exhibitors were the negative impacts that had resulted from forced shutdowns of movie theatres. At certain occasions, employees have been given pay cuts of roughly 70%. The worst part is Malaysia’s third-largest exhibitor, MBO Cinemas, was forced into voluntary liquidation. Over 25% of cinema screens in the country were permanently shuttered because of forced closures.
This whole situation is not just a disaster in itself, but it’s starting to create financial chaos that will damage the jobs of thousands across a bigger supply chain, which helps guide the entire trade the whole time. Small organisations affected are those in logistics, manufacturing, cleaning, retail, F&B, and many more. The Malaysian cinema industry and its downfalls will also likely affect the local film industry, with over 20,000 Malaysians currently set in filmmaking and production, talent, distribution, and many more examples.
Datuk Dr. Yusof Haslam of Skop Productions stressed, “As a local filmmaker, we have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has staggered the productions of three films including Abang Long Fadil 3, Polis Evo 3, and Mat Kilau, in which we have already invested more than RM20 million to produce. Furthermore, strict SOPs enforced on the creative industry have also further impacted all artists and performers involved”.
The filmmaker continued, “The government must address this situation before it gets worse. The losses incurred by cinema operators since the implementation of the first MCO in 2020 until today must also be taken into account. The paralysis of the cinema industry is not impossible, but should it happen, it would be difficult to recover”.
Persatuan Pemamer Filem Malaysia (MAFE) has created concerted appeals in providing help to the government via Majlis Keselamatan Negara (MKN), Kementerian Kewangan Malaysia (MOF), and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). These requests were made to provide exemption or reduction of entertainment taxes for exhibitors.
What’s upsetting is that even though RM225 million were used to fund and support the arts, culture, and entertainment industry last June in 2020, cinemas were excluded. Again, in November 2020, the 2021 Budget tabled allocated RM100 million for the industry, and cinemas were exempted once more. Until now, cinema operators have not received any financial or stimulus packages from the RM325 million that has been used for the creative industry’s use by the government.
General Tan Sri Datuk Amar and Chairman of MAFE Dr Mohd Ghazali Dato’ Mohd Seth stated, “Given the allowances for certain non-essential industries to reopen over the last few weeks, we believe consumers are beginning to see the discrepancy in which businesses can reopen and which cannot. The cinema industry cannot sustain closure for much longer and it will undoubtedly collapse, affecting the livelihoods of every Malaysian serving across the entire supply chain. We hope that the government will seriously reconsider their decision to allow us to reopen”.
Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic started, cinema operators have went through a set of strict SOP guidelines initiated by authorities. This includes mandatory contact tracing, temperature checks, and social distancing. Moreover, exhibitors have went through constant sanitation after every screening alongside personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by staffs. Not only that, alcohol hand rubs for customers were carried out as well. When cinemas are closed, the operators would perform daily maintenance of seats and equipment. Soon, this will become way too much for them to handle without any income.
These efforts into creating a safe environment for cinemas in Malaysia still won’t allow them to open. Worst of all, not one Covid-19 cluster can be traced back to the cinemas here. Even cinema’s worldwide have never reported a single Covid-19 cluster as well, so Malaysia shouldn’t have an issue in reopening cinemas.
In cinema halls, no mingling or close interactions are allowed and each hall’s capacity has been sharply reduced to no more than 50%, so not even a single physical contact is allowed at all amongst moviegoers. For family members from the same household, MAFE requested an allowance from authorities to ensure they can sit together, with a single seat gap between every two seats. This practice is currently carried out in Singapore. Additionally, we have the recent relaxation of SOPs for dining outside, which does not set a limit for the number of people when seated 1 metre separated from each other.
People need to understand that cinemas are not just for the sake of entertainment purposes, but also an important asset in cultural development in Malaysia. In such depressing times, cinemas also provide audience a comfortable, well-priced and safe place for escapism, similar to other leisure activities like individual sports, casinos, spas, and even gyms.
If movie buffs are following the SOPs alongside having no contact with other patrons, then going to cinemas to watch films is guaranteed as one of the safest entertainment locations outside people’s homes. So why not open it, let the cinemas operate! Help trend #ReopenCinemas across social media.