The end of a tradition
Liberty says farewell with four free shows

By Leonard Gildarie
Stabroek News
September 19, 2000

After some 36 years of entertaining Indian movie-goers, Liberty Cinema - one of Guyana's premier movie-houses - will bring the curtains down for the final time, tomorrow.

The Vlissengen Road cinema, owned by city businessman Pradeep Samtani, was sold to the New Thriving Chinese Restaurant early in August and is to be converted into a restaurant.

Samtani, 48, disclosed that tomorrow all shows will be free, as a small and final gesture to the faithfuls who patronised the Liberty Cinema over three decades.

The proprietor said that the cinema, which had the capacity to seat 851 patrons, will be handed over to New Thriving as soon as the transport has been passed. This handing over, he envisaged, would take place some time in October.

Samtani, who also owns two city stores including Shoppers' Paradise on Regent Street, revealed that he was forced to sell the cinema after he started losing millions due to unfair practices by local television stations in airing movies not yet shown in cinemas. This, and the dragging out of the tabling of copyright legislation, Samtani said, left him no alternative but to sell.

The businessman explained that in addition to finding money to pay 12 employees, he had to pay censor board fees, corporate taxes, freight and duty for films shipped, insurance, electricity and maintenance.

He added that the one expense that was really hitting the cinema industry hard was the current 25% entertainment tax. On every ticket purchased by a patron, 25% of it is paid to the government. The ease would be considerable if there was a lowering on this tax, Samtani said.

Over the last five to eight years, the cinema had been losing an average of $2 million to $5 million per year. Things had gone so badly this year that many days the cinema only grossed about $1,200 per show. The cinema was holding four shows on week days and three on Sundays.

Despite a petition signed by some 15,000 persons, calling on government to do something about the industry, Samtani said, nothing was done.

Acknowledging that many would miss going to the cinema which had became something of a tradition to some families, Samtani expressed his gratitude to the patrons "for their support for the past 36 years. I would love to go on but piracy continues in full force. Whether, I am in the business or not, I am making the call for government to lend their support at this crucial time to the industry."

The businessman said that many times in the past movies being shown at cinemas were aired simultaneously on local televisions. It was agreed at a recent meeting with television owners and representatives of the cinema industry that the stations would only air movies that had already been shown at cinemas. However, this was only adhered to for a short time and soon it was back to square one.

He pointed out that as recently as Sunday night, a major new movie, Refugee, not yet released in Guyana, was shown on a television channel. "You see, nothing is being done."

About six of the 12 cinema staff will be given jobs with his other businesses, Samtani assured.

"I would love to continue in the cinema business. I have not sold my equipment as yet and one day hope to reopen. However, the relevant laws will have to be in place. After a while, the cinema bug kind of gets into your blood. It is hard to leave", he added.

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