Artists and the public are still talking about Việt Nam Feature Film Studio (VFS), the country’s largest State-owned film studio, which held its initial public offering in mid-April.
|Classic: People’s Artist Trà Giang in VFS’s 1973 war drama 17th Parallel, Nights and Days, which won her the Best Actress award at the 8th Moscow International Film Festival. Photo honvietquochoc.vn|
The studio, located at No.4 Thụy Khuê street, nicknamed the “Big Brother” of the domestic movie industry, was established in 1953, under the ownership of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
The first movie made by VFS was the war drama Chung Một Dòng Sông (Sharing the Same River), produced in 1959. To date, the studio has produced 325 features, art films and documentary movies over its 63 years of operation.
The studio also gave birth to the golden generation of Vietnamese cinema, popularising artists and veteran actors Thế Anh, Trà Giang, Lan Hương, Minh Châu and Thanh Quý, as well as directors Nguyễn Đức Việt, Nguyễn Thanh Vân, Quốc Trọng and Trần Lực.
Since its launch, the studio had 151 employees, but after its privatisation, staff numbers were reduced to only 94.
At present, most of the actors have left the studio, and the crew is down to 5 people.
In reacting to the privatisation news, the whole cast and crew at VFS expressed varying levels of frustration and anger.
Director of VFS Vương Đức expressed his deep regret over the matter. He said privatisation was an unavoidable circumstance. “I was not keen on privatisation. I am always cautious and have little faith in renewals. But if we do not privatise, VFS will definitely sink into bankruptcy. We have suffered losses for over a decade. Either we do something, or we will sink together.
"After returning from two important trips to Hong Kong and Las Vegas, I realised one thing: We cannot rely on the state if we want our studio to catch up with the global movie industry,” he said.
Accordingly, VFS sold for VNĐ10,200 ($0.45) per share. Its privatisation was seen by some as a positive move to get the studio out of debt, but others were upset that VFS was moving in that direction.
After privatisation, the company was worth VNĐ50 billion ($2,243 million). Twenty per cent of the shares now belong to the State. VFS’ staff hold 4.5 per cent of the shares, 10.5 per cent is up for public sale and the rest were sold to a strategic investor, the Việt Nam Waterway Transport Corporation (VIVASO).
The privatisation, which was undertaken after a series of massive losses, created several disputes among the public. The selling price was thought to be quite low.
A staff member said when the studio started struggling, most of the crew received a salary of VNĐ650,000 ($30) per month, prompting them to seek extra jobs to survive.
Deputy Chairman of Việt Nam Cinema Association Nguyễn Thị Hồng Ngát said if VIVASO did not purchase the VFS shares, then some other private company would have. Further, as a private corporation, VIVASO understands how to make best use of its money. The people who work there do not tend to be emotional, like our artists. I assume many people will have to stop working there (following privatisation),” Ngát said.
Movie director Quốc Trọng, veteran actress Thanh Quí and Minh Châu disagree with the move. For Trọng, the studio holds many memories from his youth. “I have never seen an iconic brand name destroyed in such an uncultured way. Privatisation is an indispensable trend in the modern era, but they have gone about it in such an irresponsible manner. Moreover, we all know the price of the studio should not be that low,” Trọng said.
Actress Thanh Quí compared the studio to a daughter who should be given in marriage to someone trustworthy, rather than someone who would humiliate her.
Film director Trần Lực said although this was sad news, people should set their emotions aside and face the truth. Agreeing with Lực, young film director Bùi Tuấn Dũng said, “I don’t think much about buyers being inexperienced in making movies, like VIVASO. I will work for anyone who pays for my services.”
Regarding the buying of VFS, Deputy Head of the Department of Planning and Economics Trần Hoàng said VIVASO would commit to investing in material facilities for movie production and the use of the studio’s property. If the corporation fails to meet the terms of the contract, it will have to pay compensation,” he said.
Responding to queries on why VIVASO had opted to become the new owner of VFS, Nguyễn Danh Thắng, deputy director of VIVASO, said it had harboured a strong love of cinema, so buying VFS was an obvious choice. “It is similar to the other company that bought a football team for love. In my opinion, you don’t need to be an expert in the field to purchase assets in that field,” he stressed.
“If this business is treated as a legal concern, as a corporation, we will gain a great deal of profit. However, the lands being used by VFS are also rental properties owned by Hà Nội Natural Resources and Environmental Department, so if we want to do anything with that land, we will have to get approval from the concerned authorities. The No. 4 Thụy Khuê address was not a random choice, especially when its location is a rather sensitive matter.”