The deputy culture minister said on September 20, his superior, minister Nguyễn Ngọc Thiện has had a meeting with leaders of the Việt Nam Feature Film Development & Investment JSC – the name of the studio post-equitisation.

In this meeting, minister Thiện had asked the company to build a detailed rule and assignments for employees, re-organise its departments and conducted repairs and innovation to the workplace. In the foreseeable future, the company needs to pay this year’s July, August, and September salaries for its employees like before the equitisation; then recalculated the salaries according to the new company’s rules as soon as possible, “stabilise the situation so film production can commence as per the plan the strategic investor has put forth.”

The minister also asked state stakeholders to closely follow the company’s implementation of the plan and report to the director’s board and culture ministry’s leaders for resolutions.

Complicated process

The etiquisation of the VFS lies within the equitisation plan for 30 agencies under the culture ministry starting from 2006.

In 2010, VFF was transformed into the now known as a one-member limited liability company as per the existing Law on Enterprises. The government wanted to push for more intensive equitisation of the company, but it was not easy since the company incurred massive losses with no way out in sight. Artists working for the VFS were also deeply concerned about the future direction of the studio.

The complete equitisation of the studio was supposed to be done by 2015, but it was not until 2017 June 23 that the first shareholding meeting of the now Việt Nam Feature Film Development & Investment JSC. was held.

According to deputy minister Ái, the company is still undertaking the second enterprise evaluation, and the company can only be officially a joint-stock company after this process is completed in 2018 June.

The slow equitisation is blamed on the massive losses the studio has suffered. The company was in no financial position to repay its land lease debt in 20 years worth a total VNĐ20 billion (US$880,000) and was facing risks of expulsion.

Dispelling rumours

The culture ministry has also refuted the rumours saying that the “prime estate” the studio is located on has been sold at a suspiciously cheap price.

The ministry explained that the land where the studio is located – in Thuỵ Khê and Hoàng Hoa Thám of Hà Nội’s West Lake area, as well as in HCM City – is not its property, but rather the state’s and the studio has to pay rent every year. During equitisation process, the value of the lands of course are not factored in, only the value of the assets located on those land slots.

The public also expressed concerns that the investor’s interests might not lie in the resurrection of the once-prestigious film studio, but in the valuable land it’s situated on.

Huỳnh Vĩnh Ái also assured that according to the law, the investor cannot just do what it wants and use those land slots for commercial property development without any stopping. He said if the strategic investor doesn’t honour its commitment, then the ministry will ask Hà Nội People’s Committee to reclaim the land, revoke construction permits, and seek a lawsuit.

Regarding the question why the culture ministry allowed WaterWay Transport JSC Vivaso – a purely commercial company that has nothing to do with arts – to be the strategic investor of the newly equitised studio, Huỳnh Vĩnh Ái said that following a public notice calling for investors into the studio, only Vivaso expressed interest in being the strategic.

Ái also claimed the entire equitisation process has been transparent and legal, with 100 per cent consensus from VFS staff and board members. The contentious issues that public attention is focused on, Ái said, stemmed from the valuation of the studio, which has no precedents.

Nguyễn Thuỷ Nguyên, Vivaso CEO, new owner of VFS, said the renovation of the studio aims to better serve movie production, not property development. Nguyên also said the company would ensure the rights of artists and continue investment into film-making.

Attending the meeting between parties involved, Deputy Prime Minister Vũ Đức Đam said the equitisation of art establishments “is not just for economic purposes, but the ultimate goal is to create a new momentum for the development of arts in Việt Nam.” He also urged the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Science and Technology to assess VFS’s brand value which will also factor in the intangible historical and traditional values of the studio.

Đam added he would report and ask for the Prime Minister’s decision on whether to investigate the equitisation process at the studio.

''Established in 1953 and having produced nearly 400 feature films and documentaries, Việt Nam Feature Film Studio is the largest State-owned film studio in the country. Many movies it has produced have been recognised domestically and internationally, for example, Vĩ tuyến 17 - Ngày và đêm (17th Parallel, Nights and Days, 1973), Em bé Hà Nội (Girl from Hà Nội, 1975), and Bao giờ cho đến tháng mười (When the tenth month comes, 1983).

In 2010, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism approved the plan to equitise the studio. Following this decision, having been weaned off of State funds, the studio became mired in financial difficulties.

Artists who have worked or are working for the studio said they supported the Government’s equitisation efforts, however, they expressed disappointment and anger as the equitisation of the VFS studio has not been sufficiently transparent.

Some artists said that that the valuation of the film studio is too low, with the brand value of the film studio accounting for “zero đồng” in the equitisation plan, while others feared a complete eradication of a “historical” studio.

Vietnam News - September 22, 2017