As Venezuela Suffers, So Do Its Movie Theaters

Since 2014, Venezuela has been experiencing a devastating economic crisis that hasn’t taken any prisoners. Virtually all industries have been affected by hyperinflation, shortages of resources, mass-emigration and energy failures that have resulted from years of mismanagement and corruption. Movie theaters are no exception.

Hyperinflation and departing studios

Venezuelan moviegoers were able to see John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 on the big screen, but Chapter 3 never made it there due to Lionsgate’s local distributor departing the country in late 2017. “We would love to distribute films in Venezuela, support the local industry and look forward to the day when the commercial circumstances allow us to do that,” said a Lionsgate spokesperson.

Venezuelan cinema chain Cines Unidos on twitter, explaining why John Wick Chapter 3 is not coming to its theaters.

Another studio to abandon Venezuela late that year was 20th Century Fox, with Logan being one of the last films it distributed there. The studio made the announcement on social media, saying “We apologize and appreciate your understanding”.

The main reasons for a studio to leave are issues with the country’s currency that lead to extremely low revenue.

Venezuela has been experiencing hyperinflation since October 2017, around the time both Lionsgate and Fox left. Nominal prices, including in theaters, keep “rising” but the currency is heavily devalued against the U.S. dollar. As a result, a studio such as Lionsgate could spend more money on distributing a film in Venezuela than make back from ticket sales.

According to BoxOfficeMojo, Venezuela’s highest grossing film of 2013 made over $15 million. This year’s highest grossing title, Avengers: Endgame, made less than $900 thousand. This is due to extremely high inflation rates, such as last year’s which was estimated around 1,000,000%.

But there is hope among local exhibitors that Fox titles will return through Disney’s distributor and that no more studios will leave going forward. “We are looking forward to the return of Fox productions to Venezuelan screens through CineColor Venezuela, Disney’s representative in the country,” said Abdel Guerere, President of the Venezuelan Association of Film Exhibitors.

“Despite our difficult economic, social, political and public service situation, we do not estimate any other Hollywood studio to withdraw from Venezuela.”

Indeed, even with revenue that is extremely low compared to other Latin American countries, virtually all major studio titles get distributed throughout Venezuela. But showing those films isn’t easy for local multiplexes outside of Caracas, the country’s capital.

Lack of electricity and resources in multiplexes

You can’t project a film without electricity and Venezuela’s electrical grids have been mismanaged for years. The country has faced widespread outages, such as a nationwide multiday blackout this March. And while the situation has cooled off in Caracas, Venezuela’s interior is still facing significant lack of energy.

Many Americans saw Avengers: Endgame on opening night, but many Venezuelans in opening morning. “The government established electrical rationing schedules in the interior of the country and therefore showtimes are between 10AM and 5PM. On weekends the power situation is a little better,” said Guerere.

He added that both within and outside Caracas, showtimes past 9PM are virtually never scheduled due to “personal insecurity”.

At an early morning Avengers screening, moviegoer Ángel Quintero told the news agency AFP that “We live in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, so no matter the time, you feel insecure at every moment.”

A look at online theaters schedules in Caracas and Venezuela’s interior shows the patterns Guerere described.

A weekday schedule in Caracas, with both post pre- and post 5PM shows. The last show is at 8:50PM.

A weekday schedule in Barquisimeto, a Venezuelan city over 200 miles from Caracas. There last show is at 5:20PM, and the page displays a warning of a broken air conditioner. (Auto-translated by Google)
A weekend schedule in another Barquisimeto theater, with both pre- and post 5PM showtimes. The last show is at 8PM.

And although theaters may be able to schedule shows around rationing schedules, it’s difficult to work around lack of water.

“In the main cities – Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, San Cristóbal, Mérida, Puerto la Cruz, Margarita, Barinas, Puerto Ordaz, et cetera – there continues to be a serious deficit that very negatively impacts the effort of showing films in shopping malls, since along with the lack of electricity there is a shortage of water for air conditioners, bathrooms and concessions as well as instability in telephone and internet services.”

So while in other countries you may be able to open your ticketing app and scan a QR code at the theater before mixing soda flavors on a freestyle machine, it’s not that easy in one facing poor energy infrastructure and water shortages.

Low Attendance and Closing Screens

According to Guerere, exhibitors are worried about declining attendance and closing theaters. In 2016, over 30 million movie tickets were sold in the country. Two years later, in 2018, that number was only 14 million.

In 2014 there were 456 auditoriums. Today, in 2019, that number is down to 370.

In a CaracasChronicle article from 2016, writer Raul Stolk wrote that “of course, in the greater scheme of things Venezuelan, there are other priorities besides being able to go out for dinner and a movie. Like getting dinner, period.”

The crisis has led to the emigration of over 4 million Venezuelans, a number that is estimated to soon hit 5 million.

“We know that Venezuelans like to go to the movies, it is their favorite entertainment away from home. But families are surviving this complex crisis, limiting their expenses to essential consumer goods, such as food, transportation and healthcare,” said Guerere. “Exhibitors are all doing every effort to be solvent with our suppliers and at the same time to be present for the public. When prosperity returns, cinemas should be open to celebrate and support national development, as we have done in the past 70 years.”

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