Cambodian filmmakers and actors are preparing to petition Prime Minister Hun Sen for a higher tax or a cap on imported foreign films, fearing they will crush the reborn Cambodian movie industry.
About 70 signatures have been collected, filmmakers and actors said.
“I will sign and fingerprint the petition,” said film star Sovann Makara, one of its sponsors. “We need the government to take more action on illegally imported movies, and it should limit the number imported legally.”
“We can’t improve our movie sector unless governments and related departments find markets for showing,” said film producer and importer Korm Chanthy, who founded French Cambodia International Production in 2000.
“We produce with high quality and price, but we have not enough markets for our productions,” he said. “When our movie [industry] is abandoned again, both nation and film actors or actresses will be jobless.”
Policy decisions about taxing imported films rest with the Ministry of Culture, said Ministry of Information Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith. Officials at the Ministry of Culture declined to comment on the petition.
However, Khieu Kanharith said, “The tax must be reasonable enough; it is not good that you adopt a protectionist policy if you want to promote the local film.”
“Competition sometimes is a good thing,” he said.
Even within the industry there are points of disagreement. Some say price differences are at the root of the problem; others maintain it’s a question of quality.
“Cambodian movies that are produced locally are too expensive [to buy] when compared to foreign movies,” said Chen Marido, deputy director of TV5, which shows many foreign films.
Moviegoers, said Korm Chanthy, “have to pay 5,000 riel for Cambodian movies, but they only pay around 3,000 riel for foreign movies that show in Cambodian theaters.”
At least part of the cost difference may come from piracy, a problem that Cambodia has been trying to deal with for months.
Korm Chanthy said Cambodian theaters can often import illegally reproduced foreign films for as little as $500. Sovann Makara said the price can be as low as $200.
In January, the National Assembly adopted a law penalizing the sale of illegally copied material, but enforcing it has proven difficult.
Cambodia has not yet ratified its accession agreement to the World Trade Organization, but it is widely expected to do so when a new government is formed. Cracking down on piracy is a requirement of joining the WTO.
“It’s very important to enforce the law,” Korm Chanthy said.
But while joining the WTO would theoretically give Cambodian films access to foreign markets, there is no sign that foreign theaters are interested in buying them, Korm Chanthy added.
Ly Bun Yim, director of Flash Diamond Movie Production, said, “Foreign countries will welcome our films if we can produce them with high quality.”
Others, like Korm Chanthy, insist it is because Cambodian filmmakers spend thousands of dollars to produce high-quality films that they cannot afford to compete with imports.
But film star Yuthara Chhany said showing foreign movies in Cambodian theaters “isn’t wrong, because people can choose to select the movies they want.”
In the end, even Ly Bun Yim said that, despite his doubts about the petition, he thinks it is a good idea if it will spur the government to take more action against illegally imported films.
According to economist Sok Heng of the Economic Institute of Cambodia, the WTO does not generally regulate tariffs on cultural products such as books and films, so “Cambodia can tax what it wants.”
But some Cambodians say the domestic film industry has been doing better on its own, since demand for Thai films dropped in the wake of January’s anti-Thai riots.
The petition has been in the works for weeks, but has not yet been sent because many actors who would sign it are touring in the provinces, Korm Chanthy said.
(Additional reporting by Nicholas Seeley)