Struggling movie theaters in Shanghai get $2.5 million in stimulus aid

Society & Culture

After being forced to close for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, around 345 movie theaters in Shanghai have received much-needed financial aid of nearly 18 million yuan ($2.5 million) from the city’s film bureau. But with cinemas across the country showing no signs of reopening, China’s movie theater business is still expecting widespread bankruptcies.

After being forced to close for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, around 345 movie theaters in Shanghai have received much-needed financial aid of nearly 18 million yuan ($2.5 million) from the city’s film bureau. But with cinemas across the country showing no signs of reopening, China’s movie theater business is still expecting widespread bankruptcies.

The stimulus was announced on July 8 and it immediately drew positive feedback from theater owners in Shanghai, who have been struggling to pay rent and other bills after months of no revenues and mandated shutdowns. According to local newspaper the Xinmin Evening News (in Chinese), the financial assistance came from a national fund dedicated to the development of China’s film industry.  (see this Baidu page in Chinese for details on the fund). To apply for the relief, local cinemas were asked to submit documents (in Chinese) containing information about their ticket sales in 2019, and how much they contributed to the fund last year.

In an interview with the newspaper, Sōng Lìhuá 松丽华, who owns a local theater that has eight screens and roughly 20 employees, said that after the venue was ordered to shutter in January, she furloughed the majority of her workers. In the face of financial ruin, she said that the financial assistance was necessary for the theater to get by. It’s also a confidence boost for the entire movie industry, Song stated, adding that her employees have been working on reopening plans even though officials haven’t yet given the go-ahead to open up.

China ordered around 10,000 movie theaters across the country to shut down in January as part of the nationwide response to COVID-19. Last month, as the pandemic waned and lockdowns eased, some businesses such as gyms and bars were given permission to reopen. But movie theaters were excluded from the list.

The uncertainty has caused not only financial hardship for the industry but also distress and anxiety among movie theater owners and workers. In June, Huáng Wēi 黄巍, who was the vice president of Bona Film Group, one of the largest film distribution companies in China, jumped to his death from his Beijing office after making several posts on social media complaining about the government’s lack of measures to save the country’s moviegoing business. Famous filmmakers, such as Jiǎ Zhāngkē 贾樟柯, have voiced their concerns, too.

If there’s any glimmer of hope, it’s that according to some movie industry insiders (in Chinese), this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival, which was supposed to take place in early July, is still set to take place later this month, with the support of local officials. As a main part of the annual event, local movie theaters often show a selection of foreign movies to the public.