A couple of days ago, I wrote a piece on a local actor — Megat Sharizal — calling out Malaysian theatre chains and accusing them of sabotaging homebrewed films. “This is an example of how dirty our local cinemas are!” Sharizal said. “They purposely program local movies to ridiculous timing. Why? To ensure the collections are low so that they can take it out from their cinemas to make way for foreign movies.” This was in reference to Suatu Ketika and Dendam Pontianak.
In an awesome turn of events, yesterday, it was announced on Suatu Ketika‘s official Facebook page that GSCinemas (a local distributor and exhibitor) had allocated more reasonable showtimes for Suatu Ketika for the next few days. The post read:
“Finally, GSCinemas has changed the showtimes of Suatu Ketika to something more reasonable and accessible. Let’s fill every chair in every theatre so that there can be more shows at more locations… Your continued support will serve as a catalyst for us to produce more high-quality films. Thank you.”
This is, of course, a first step in the right direction.
I understand that movies are a business and that theatre chains would naturally allocate the best timings and the most locations to films that are making them the most money. However, the reality is our local film industry doesn’t exactly have the best impression among the masses. Walk down the street and ask a random joe to catch a Malaysian film and he/she will probably say, “har? Local films are all very lousy.” Whether you agree with that statement or not is beside the point — that is generally how our film industry is perceived by the masses right now.
There’s also the question of marketing budget. Notice how the films that made the most buzz among the masses over the past few years — Paskal, Dukun, Ola Bola, Polis Evo 2, Journey, Hantu Kak Limah — are all distributed by Astro Shaw? Astro Shaw has all the money in the world, enough money to create enough noise and plough through the “local films are very lousy” shield. (This doesn’t mean that everything distributed by Astro Shaw is of quality. It simply means that they have enough in their pockets to do enough to get people into cinemas despite their apprehension about the industry.)
A lot of other films, even the very very good ones that receive highly positive reviews from critics, tend to fall by the wayside and bomb at the box office. Why? Because the only way for a film with little to no marketing budget to find an audience is by strong word of mouth. These movies need time to breathe and pick up steam.
First, critics need to catch em and talk about em on their platforms. Then film fans need to watch them and talk about them on social media. Only after that will it start trickling down to the eyes and ears of the wider audience. The problem is, by the time the casual film fan even hears about a Jagat or a Fly By Night, the movie is already out of cinemas (or still showing, but only at odd timings). Which is why a lot of these films tend to find love from a wider audience, months, maybe even years later on streaming platforms, etc.
Recently, Malaysian actress Sharifah Amani tweeted something that highlights the aforementioned:
It’s crazy the kind of feedback I get about Sepet 15 years on. Dulu not many went to the cinemas to watch. Biasa lah siapa je nak support local films maa. The cinemas pun letak timing show tahpape. Siapa pegi tengok movie pepagi on a weekday ye dak?
— Sharifah Amani (@sharifahamani) September 17, 2019
I’m not saying theatre chains HAVE TO change their MO. I recognise that it’s a business. However, more discussions need to be had on how we can provide a solid and fertile ground for GOOD local films that are not backed by Astro Shaw to find an audience in theatres.
Suatu Ketika is now screening in Malaysian theatres.