Shortage of Theaters Strangles ‘Giant Snake’

The showings of “Child of the Giant Snake,” the first completely Cambodian movie production in years, are garnering $69,000 a day in Thailand at 30 Bangkok theaters.

In Phnom Penh, the lack of a modern movie theater forced the producer of the film to show “Child of the Giant Snake” at two cultural centers for $2 a ticket and at a television station for $0.78 a seat.

“I have no theater to show [the movie] besides the French and Russian cultural centers and TV3,” bemoaned Fay Sam Ang, producer of “Child of the Giant Snake.”

Cambodia’s movie houses have suffered along with the rest of the country over the past 30 years of turmoil, ending a once flourishing cinema scene that boasted 20 theaters in the 1960s.

Today, some of the cinemas have been remade into karaoke parlors; at least one is a military police station. Most are abandoned and derelict.

When film-goers sat down last month to see the premiere of “Child of the Giant Snake,” a remake of a classic Cambodian movie from before the civil war, they did it without the big screen glamour of a modern air-conditioned movie theater.

The Jan 28 premiere of “Child of the Giant Snake,” shown at Chaktomuk theater as an invitation-only fund-raiser, underscored Phnom Penh’s glaring lack of modern movie screens.

“I’m very sad, as a Cambodian and a movie lover,” said Fay Sam Ang. “I can’t understand why many theaters closed their doors.”

A lack of movies may be one reason.

Dozens of theaters closed their doors over the years because no good films were produced locally, said Mao Ayuth, director of TVK and a former movie producer.

The lack of a modern movie theater means lost sales for the fledgling Cambodian film industry, according to Fay Sam Ang.

The profit the movie makes in Thailand is being split evenly between the movie theaters and the movie production company, which spent $200,000 to make the movie, Fay Sam Ang said.

Negotiations are under way for the film’s US release, Fay Sam Ang said. Details were not available.

In Phnom Penh, the French Cultural Center, with 100 available seats, agreed to show the film for 11 days. A similar deal was struck with the Russian Culture Center, which agreed to show the film for 7 days.

The profits from those showings will be split 73 percent for the movie production company and 27 percent for the culture centers. The movie has also been shown at the TV3 center, which doesn’t have air conditioning.

Fay Sam Ang said he wants to show the movie to all 12 million Cambodians and to others who have left the country. But he can’t without a larger theater.

There is support for rebuilding national movie theaters. Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said he supports renovating a theater to show Cambodian films.

“It is the way to promote Khmer culture,” he said. “If there’s no film, there’s no theater. If movie producers are able to produce films, theaters will come along.”

Private investors have already made some progress toward restoring Phnom Penh’s lost cinemas. A South Korean company plans to open the Vimean Tip theater on Monivong Boulevard next month, according to Sam Sokhun, the director of the film department for the Ministry of Culture.

The renovation is costing about $1 million, he said.

Two more theaters are awaiting renovation by private investors: the Phnom Penh and Lux theaters. The Ministry of Culture plans to spend $500,000 from the UN Educational, Scien­tific and Cultural Organ­ization to renovate the Lux theater and make it a state-owned performance space for movies and concerts, but financing troubles stalled the plan.

“In Phnom Penh we need at least 10 theaters to show movies,” said Sam Sokhun. “If producers are able to produce good films, I’m sure more theaters will be built.”

King Norodom Sihanouk, a movie producer and actor in national movies in the 1960s, told the Ministry of Culture last year that five theaters should be renovated: the Chenla, the Concert Hall, the Kirirom, the Sar Prum Meas and Chaktomuk.

Renovations for Chaktomuk were completed recently; the others are closed. Hang Sorth, director of the Performance Depart­ment for the Ministry of Culture, said he was disappointed that some of the former theaters are now being used for things other than culture and art.

“It is a major problem for me; it is a theater crisis now,” he said. “A country with no culture is like a person with no head.”





Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.