Failure to launch: 90% of Burma's cinemas shutter one month after junta's forced reopening

Failure to launch: 90% of Burma's cinemas shutter one month after junta's forced reopening

Due to extremely low audience numbers, movie theater owners are shuttering locations just weeks after the military forced a nationwide restart of Burma’s film industry. 

Film producers, many of whom have been blocked from leaving the country, say they are finding it difficult to screen movies despite the military recently forcing cinemas across Burma to reopen following a two-year hiatus. 

Nearly 70 cinemas across the country were forced to reopen on April 17, screening movies featuring celebrities recently released from prison sentences — yet the general public has comprehensively boycotted theaters on political grounds. 

Only around 10 cinemas, large military-owned, are still presenting films after last month’s reopening. Most have dropped Burmese titles in favor of dated international offerings.

“Thuwanna Nadi company used to import international movies before the pandemic. But [foreign movie licenses] are no longer available. I have no idea how they can show these movies. How can they show new international movies while the film industry in Burma is sinking? Most people know that any of them may be downloaded online or watched via streaming services,” a source from the film industry told DVB.

In the Kachin capital Myitkyina, the Ayeyar cinema this week screened the Thai movie “Pee Nak 3” — released in April — with the foreign offering managing to attract a modest number of visitors, according to locals.

Theaters forced to open by the junta last month had, amongst other titles, screened the long-shelved Burmese movie “Way Ma Nay Chin Bu”, starring actor and director Lu Min who had been imprisoned by the junta and released in an amnesty The film is believed to have grossed a mere K32 lakh (US$1,700) nationwide before being shelved; the worst opening month for a movie in Burma’s recent history. 

Producers claim that, on average, it costs studios between K800-1,000 lakh (US$40,000-54,000) to shoot a movie in country.

“It costs around K80 lakh (US$4,300) a week to show a movie at [Yangon’s famous] Thamada Cinema. Cinemas pay at least K30 lakh (US$1,600) in rent to the government. The government froze taxes for cinema owners during the pandemic. Now, [cinema owners] are also losing money just by opening their venues. They have to pay the operating costs even if they do not have to pay taxes to the government. Only K80 lakh (US$4,000) was earned from a movie starring Pyay Ti Oo. And now, no one is watching the movie with [Burmese heartthrob] Paing Takhon. Everyone involved in the industry is losing money!” a source exclaimed.

The state-owned Thamada Cinema in Yangon is one of the largest cinemas in the country, with tickets costing from K3,000 (US$1.60) to K20,000 (US$10.70). Those working closely with the theater say that, before the coup and the military’s relentless crackdown on the arts, a movie would typically gross between K1,500 to 3,000 lakh (US$81,000 to 108,000) over a two week opening.

Of 70 cinemas nationwide, only Thamada, Win Light in Mandalay, Ayeyar in Myitkyina, and a few other select locations remain open following the aborted launcha.