Syria/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.6 Film, video and photography

First: Private Movie Houses

Ever since cinema has been introduced in 1908, movie houses have spread, amounting to around 120 houses in 1963. According to the Syrian cinema encyclopaedia issued in 1997, the number of cinema halls decreased to 42 and most halls were built at the end of the forties and the beginning of the fifties, which faced an eruption of building big halls. We remember that the last cinema hall founded was As-sham cinema theater in 1982. According to statistics, in 1965, the population in Syria was 4 million and there were 140 cinema halls, while in 2010, the population reached 22 million and there were 30 cinema halls, only eight of which are provided with high technical standards. Cinema production in Syria started in 1928 with the film “the Innocent Guilty”, after only one year since cinema had started in Egypt (in 1927) with the film “Layla”. Even so, Syrian total production of cinema throughout a complete half of a century was about a hundred films only, while in Egypt, the number reached about one thousand five hundred films. In the first stage that proceeded the arise of the General Institution of Cinema, the first adventurers produced only seven fictional films with infamous companies that would withdraw from cinema production directly after achieving their first film, because they entered this industry essentially to quickly accomplish large profits without a sufficient amount of money, knowledge, or necessary tools. On the other hand, the second stage which started with the foundation of cinema circle in the Ministry of Culture, then the arise of the General Institution of Cinema, was, in terms of fundamentals, the biggest curve for cinema in Syria. It was characterized with the dimensions of the public sector cinema experience and the attempts to introduce serious cinema in the face of the contagion of cinema production in the private sector, especially after the decree of having cinema distribution and importation exclusive to the General Institution of Cinema. It was also characterized with owners of cinema houses entering the field of cinema production or contributing to fund it, support it, and showing its films in the halls they owned, instead of importing new films through the institution, which was a negative position officially unannounced to the decree. Although the decree made importation exclusive to the institution, it kept direct investments in those imported films in cinema halls as an open business done by the private sector, whose production was noticeably reduced and later in the nineties, completely stopped as a result, even though, there was no law making concerned in the production exclusive to the General Institution of Cinema.


However the figure declined reaching nowadays to less than 40, with more than 25 of them are located in Damascus and Aleppo. The number of seats has amounted to 15000, with an average of less than one seat per 1000 inhabitants. According to a study carried out by the General Establishment of Cinema, the current number of those who go often to movie houses is a person for every 8 days, whereas the total revenues of the cinema halls combined has reached 41 million SYP.


The reason behind the decline in the presence of cinema traditions amongst lives of the Syrian lies in a number of factors, the most important of which are the following hindering laws:


The law on Restrictions of Import: the law was issued in 1969 by Decree No.2543 prescribing restriction of import and distribution of films to the General Establishment of Cinema, prohibiting owners of the private cinema houses from importing Arab and foreign movies. It further obliged them to exhibit the movies imported by the General Establishment of Cinema. According to the General Director of the General Establishment of Cinema who pointed out on the 7th of September, 2005:”Restriction Law has hindered the import of qualitative movies, and the body who was entitled to choose the imported movies is comprised of three persons. In this respect, it is worth mentioning that big companies prohibit exporting movies to countries that recognize Law of Restrictions on imports. This has resulted in the decline of the number of first class movies and prevalence of second or third degree movies throughout those years until we have reached this point”. The law was cancelled in 2003, enabling every distributor or owner of a cinema house to import whatever films they wish.


The General Establishment of Cinema has imposed a tax on every imported film rising to 225000 SYP for importing Indian films, 150000 SYP for Arabic-speaking films, and 125000 SYP for foreign films.


Later, the Ministry of Culture has decreased the value of the tax and imposed 50000 SYP as a tax per every film no matter of its kind.


Percentages of taxes and dues, be it on the import of accessories and equipment for modernizing cinema houses or entrance tickets have been reduced.


Issuance of Law No. 4 prescribing exemption of any equipment imported by the newly-opened cinema houses following the issuance of instructions on exemption as well as the already-established houses of cinema from dues and customs for encouraging modernization and maintenance of these halls. A five – year period of exemption has been granted.


The Ministry of Culture deducts a 10% of revenues gained by owners of the private cinema houses, besides to a commission paid to the General Establishment of Cinema.


Other types of dues and taxes are paid to other bodies such as:

 

  • The General Establishment for Advertisement
  • Ministry of Local Administration (fees of stamps and cleaning).
  • Ministry of Finance (tax on profits).

 

The communiqué issued by the Cabinet in 1984 stipulating expropriation every cinema house that is used for other purposes.


The General Establishment
of Cinema has demanded building one cinema house in each municipality. The Minister of Tourism has consented to impose on every modern tourist complex opening a cinema house. This has been in force since 2005.


Along with the start of the uprising in Syria in 2011 and as a result of the crisis intensity, the number of halls that were still working in Damascus had become less than ten. Their owners tried to adapt to the emergency situation by changing the times when films were showing, and reducing them so that shows would be finished before seven in the evening. While before the crisis, they used to stay open until one o'clock in the morning, however, this didn’t seem to work out for them. Thus, Damascus became completely empty of any cinema hall, especially after the “Cinema City” compound closed its doors in the beginning of 2013, which was considered the last cinema hall still working in the capital Damascus, according to what was mentioned in many informational methods including Al Rai, Jordanian newspaper.


According to an investigation by journalist Ahmad Hajj on the Al Iqtisadi Al Souri website - published on 9/3/2014 under the title “Damascus Cinemas are Empty” -  cinema theaters in Damascus have become a rest stop for every citizen waiting for bureaucratic processing in a nearby area, or homeless looking for a place to rest. Cinema theaters are losing money but have to go on as more than half of them are rented, and investors are obliged to continue with their work as stated in contracts. As for cinema theaters that are not rented, their owners are not able to change the business because of decrees that prevent them from doing so.  Damascus Cinema was established in 1955 and  was privatised in 2009, reopening under the name “Cinema City Complex”.It closed down again in 2013 due to the worsening security situation in Damascus, according to a statement made by business partner Haitham Al Atassi who lives in the USA. The cinema reopened in July 2014 and according to one of the complex’s employees the decision to reopen it came after relative stability and a return to everyday life in the capital.


In June 2013 the People’s Council of Syria ratified the law concerning the cancellation of support for cinema wherever mentioned in law and regulations, as law No. 96 of 2002 that imposed funding support for cinema from 10% of sold box office tickets “did not achieve the desired outcome taking into consideration the lack of revenue accruing from it”. This was in addition to complaints from cinema theater owners regarding the financial constraints the law imposes on them in a time of great losses and fewer cinemagoers in the current circumstances. The law seeks to save cinemas from closing down, spare their employees from unemployment and ease the administrative burden of the measures cinema owners are obliged to make in order to pay the amount.



Second: The General Establishment of Cinema:

The General Establishment of Cinema was established in 1963.


Since the start of its march, the Establishment has faced many serious difficulties. Amongst of those difficulties that badly affected were  the economic crisis, the shortages in the technical aspects, beside to human effect, namely, the lack of qualified cadre, let alone the sharp dispute between the Establishment and the private sector directly after its opening and initiation of its activities whether in domain of production, importing, or distribution of films. The dispute between both bodies was raised due to conflicting interests, to different tasks, and different methods of work execution, and of work administration.


The strategic objectives of the works of the General Establishment and its means of work administration were represented in three main tasks:


Creating a solid, technical, materialistic, and economic base that allows developing for film production, increasing the number of long and short movies, boosting production in a way that goes in line with the available activities and exploiting them in a sound and correct way.


Creating specialized cinematic cadre through delegating and qualifying personnel in the different specializations of cinema industry.


Put an end to the conflict with the private sector in the field of cinema industry for the best interest of the public sector on the basis that the private sector does not enjoy sustainability in terms of production and other cinematic domains, taking into consideration that cinema is a cultural, educational, and political activity, on t one hand, and a sound and solid economy that contributes in increasing the national income, on the other. The private sector sees into cinema as just a profitable trade, and a means of entertainment and recreation with no other ideological task.


The General Establishment of Cinema invests its infrastructure through renting its technical equipments to individual and private establishments[1]. In 2003, the General Establishment of Cinema celebrated the Diamond Jubilee (1928 – 2003) of producing the first fictional film. This celebration was held simultaneously with two other anniversaries which were; the fortieth birthday of the General Establishment of Cinema and the thirteenth period of Damascus International Cinema Festival.


In those four decades the Establishment only produced forty fictional films, of which the majority were not publicly shown. This poor production output ultimately meant the Establishment was unable to demonstrate the need for its existence.


From 2011 to the beginning of 2014, 11 fiction feature films were produced, in addition to more than 30 films by young directors. There was an orientation, in these unfamiliar productions, towards artists and directors known to be in favour with the political authority.


In June 2014 on the occasion marking the General Organization of Cinema’s golden anniversary, the organization launched the first “Youth Cinema and Short Film” festival which screened 40 short films at the Opera House, including six films produced by the organization, and 30 films produced as a result of the “Youth Cinema Support” grants, a project launched by the organization in 2012.  



Video:

Video art in Arabic (the technology of recording moving pictures which is mostly accompanied by audio recording). This is considered a new art in the world. It started between the thirties and the forties of the last century and was late to enter the Arab world, and specifically Syria. There aren’t legislations especially for video art in Syria, only those related with surveillance and granting permissions to stores that buy and sell video tapes of which the Directorate of Surveillance in the Ministry of Culture[2] is in charge.


The “Art Now” private initiative was established in 2005 to support contemporary art in Damascus and held the “1st Video Art Festival” in 2009, screening 125 films from 45 countries.[3]



Third: The Directors:

Directors should have due work approval before starting shooting the cinematic or TV work.


The title of “director”(according to classification of the Syndicate of Artists) is a pre-condition for individuals working in film or television production. Legal solutions have been presented through the so-called a temporary work permit.



Fourth: The Government Directives to Develop Legislations and Laws pertaining to Private Cinematic Production:

Based on the 10th five-year plan, it is stated that the reasons that lay behind the poor cinema production are constant increase in costs of production, lack of financing, poor cycle of the cinema production, and the non-continuation of the project of cinema city.


The State Planning Commission has set up a number of projects with the view of introducing legalized changes that facilitate the participation of the private sector in the cinema production. Amongst these are:

  • Providing facilities and exemptions for Arab and international film projects intended to be carried out in Syria.

  • Establishing a national funds for supporting cinema within the framework of Chamber of Cinema and TV Industry.

  • Encouraging the private banks as well as other banks to finance and invest in domain of cinema production along with provision of required and encouraging facilities to boost the participation of the private sector.





[1] Tariff of Renting the technical Equipment:

Tariff of renting the technical equipment as well as the technical operations are defined as follows:

A- Tariff on all technical equipment and technical operations for long films with regard to: (technical equipment, lab, sound, montage, and except forcameras) till completing the production of the first copy is 330000 SYP.

B- Tariff on all technical equipment and technical operations of short films with regard to: (technical equipment of various kinds, lab, sound, and Montage) till completing the production of the first copy is 50000 SYP.

C- Advance payments for carrying out partial works.

  • An advance payment of 90000 SYP on renting cameras and its accessories for long movies and advertisements as an insurance on the camera and its accessories. The fees are to be paid in advance according to the period of renting.
  • An advance payment of 100000 SYP on technical equipment such as ordinary illumination equipment (electricity, Italian-made Crane, Italian-made Shario, etc) for long films, advertisements, or series as an insurance on technical equipment. The Fees are to be paid in advance according to the period of renting and quality of the rented equipments.
  • An advance payment of 150000 SYP on technical equipment such as day-light and ordinary illumination, electricity, crane punter, Shario etc… for long films, advertisements, or series, as an insurance on the technical equipment. The fees of the technical equipment are to be paid in advance according to the period of renting and quality of the rented equipment.
  • An advance payment of the work of labs of printing and developing, defined as follows:
    • 30000 SYP For long films (raw material not included) including: negative developing, positive developing, various kinds of printing, copying from cinema to video, and negative montage. As for the fees of positive raw film, is to be paid according to the need determined by the Head of Labs Dept, on condition that the negative should not be delivered before paying all due fees for the whole work with regard to various services, various kinds of production and sound, in addition to the administrative fees mentioned in item /5/. Fees should be paid after 6 months at maximum after the date of initiating the process of developing the materials at the lab. Any delay calls for a legal action.
    • 10000 SYP for short films (raw material not included) including: negative developing, positive developing, various kinds of printing, copying from cinema to video, and negative montage. As for the fees of the positive raw material, is to be paid according to the need determined by the Head of Labs Dept, on condition that the negative should not be delivered before paying all due fees for the whole work with regard various works, various kinds of production, and sound in addition to the administrative fees mentioned in item/5/. Fees should be paid after 6 months at maximum after the date of initiating the process of developing the materials at lab. Any delay calls for a legal action.
    • An advance payment on sound work:
      • 20000 SYP  an advance payment for renting recordings, Doubling, and Mixing, be it via AVD or normal recording, ( raw material not included) on condition that fees should be paid after the completion of the work.
      • 20000 SYP an advance payment for renting equipment of Nagra, DAT, and microphones, etc... on condition that fees should be paid after the completion of the work.
      • An advance Payment on Clothes and Accessories is100000 SYP advance payment should be paid on renting clothes and accessories. Fees should be paid based on the value of chosen clothes. Fees are to be set by a committee formed by the Directorate of Production Affairs.

               N.B:

  1. The rented technical equipments are to be returned with the presence of a technician deputized by the Establishment. In the case of renting Crane Panter with Shario, three to four technicians must be present when returned. The renter should pay the fees of the technicians.
  2. The renter is responsible for any damage or loose due to misuse or storing of the equipment, the technician should report on that.
  3. Upon the end of the pre-requested renting period, the renter should pay in advance the fees for the extra period, Otherwise the equipment should be returned back upon the end of the renting period.
  4. Upon completion of the first copy of the film, a financial settlement of all fees of the works for the production of the film will be carried out. The renter should pay the differences in amounts due to unexpected expenditures upon completion of production resulted from wages and insurance advance.
  5. In case the renter wanted to make more than one copy of his film, he should pay the value of the desired copies before copying.

 

[2]Website of E-governmental initiative in the Syrian Arab Republic

[3] Discover Syria website 18/2/2009


Chapter published: 06-05-2016


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