The Korea Herald

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‘More COVID government aid needed for local theaters’

By Song Seung-hyun

Published : May 12, 2021 - 15:17

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Representatives of local theaters gather at Megabox Dongdaemun in Seoul at a press conference asking for further COVID-19 assistance from the government on Wednesday. (Korean Theater Association) Representatives of local theaters gather at Megabox Dongdaemun in Seoul at a press conference asking for further COVID-19 assistance from the government on Wednesday. (Korean Theater Association)

Local multiplex operators on Wednesday urged the government to come up with more effective financial support plans for theaters that have been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Representatives of the Korean Theater Association, as well as four local multiplex operators -- CGV, Lotte Cinema, Megabox and Cine Q -- gathered at Megabox Dongdaemun in Seoul to express their concerns about the plight they have been facing.

“The movie industry is a competitive cultural business that can become the leader of the global film market, however, government support for the industry after the COVID-19 broke out has been put to one side,” Korean Theater Association Chairman Lee Chang-mu said. “If there is not any further support, there will not be next ‘Parasite’ or Youn Yuh-jung.“

In 2020, the number of people who visited local theaters plunged 74 percent from the year before, which is the lowest since the Korean Film Council started compiling box office data in 2004.

The representatives emphasized that more money from the movie development fund should be used for helping local theaters. Currently, movie theaters are required to contribute 3 percent of their ticket sales every month to the Korean Film Council, which goes into the development fund.

The association said theaters have been paying around 50 billion won ($44 million) annually for 14 years since 2007.

“The money that we paid so far was barely used for us. Now that we are going through a difficult time, we are asking for some help,” Lee said.

“To normalize the movie industry, there should be some support to encourage more movies to be released. Currently, movie theaters have been providing 1,000 won per audience to film distributors as assistance,” Lee said. “But we have reached our limit. So we are asking the government to do this job from now on.”

The theater representatives also asked for a complete waiver on their monthly contributions to the movie development fund in 2021. Last year, authorities slashed the fee by 90 percent.

During the press conference, the theater representatives also asked to establish a guideline to allow audiences to consume food and beverages in theaters.

“Like restaurants, audiences should be able to eat food depending on the level of the social distancing rule. We will follow them strictly,” Lee said.

Lee added that banning food in theaters altogether give people the perception that theaters are a dangerous place to visit.

Korea Art Theater Association Chairman Choi Nak-young, who was also at the briefing, said that the situation for art theaters is not that different and needs more support as well.

“Most of the independent theaters will all shut down within a few years without further support,” Choi said.

Lee, of the Korean Theater Association, said he will make more aggressive appeals to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism about the issue.

“We will be having a meeting about this matter with the culture ministry next week,” Lee told The Korea Herald on the sidelines of the press conference. ”We are not trying to fight them. We are asking for help.“

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)