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October 26, 2020

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(Translated by Yang Yang) The ups and downs of a ‘cultural living room’

JIADING Cinema has been entertaining audiences since it opened in the 1980s. Despite the ups and downs it has gone through over the past 30 years, it survived and is still trying to improve its services.

I began working at the cinema in 1980, when I was fresh out of high school. At the time, the cinema was still taking shape and officially began to receive viewers a year later.

The site was originally a military hall, which was torn down to build the cinema as the district — which was a town then — planned to set up a facility that was capable of holding large meetings and important assemblies as well as different cultural performances and films.

Different sectors were involved in design and construction.

I recall clearly the tide of people flocking into our cinema when we started off. Films were a new thing, but they were also an increasing trend. It was what people kept going to and talking about.

Films were flooding in to be shown on the screen, including quality productions from the past and the latest made at home and abroad. For a long time it was quite hard to buy a ticket to watch films.

“The Shaolin Temple” was the most influential one. It was scheduled to play for four days from June 10 in 1982, but I learned that this film was especially popular when I was asking about it. The tickets were sold out in advance, and there were not enough to satisfy eager viewers.

The previous screening ended at 9pm on June 9, and we decided to add one more session the same night. When word spread, people said they would definitely welcome it no matter how late it would be, just as long as they got to see it.

The night when the films finally arrived at our cinema at around 11pm, everyone applauded. The seats were filled, and our staff were so excited and into the work that they forgot their tiredness. The film continued to be screened for several hours later, and after a few hours’ rest, lives went back to normal at 6:30am.

The film was screened for 35 times over the five-day period and had an audience of over 63,000.

The number of viewers continued to climb. In August 1983, the martial art movie “Wudang” had about 72,000 visitors in five days, a record high for the theater.

Apart from films, performances were also a major attraction. A variety of folk shows from local troupes as well as those from neighboring provinces were staged, winning a reputation for the facility at the same time.

Overcome the sticky moments

The turning point came around the middle of the 1990s. People visiting the theater began to decline as video players made it possible to watch films at home.

It was hard for us to open more sessions, except for the really popular films. There were few visitors especially on a summer afternoon. There were usually less than 10 people in the hall, so the air-conditioner was not fully on — as a result, even fewer people were willing to come. It was a vicious circle.

Our operation became a dilemma, and we needed to figure out how to get through it.

To increase income, we rented out our venues for other businesses like video rooms, karaoke and dancing. In 1996 we signed with Lianhua Supermarket and provided 300 square meters for them with our cinema hall smaller.

We also made the lobby into a two-story space for games and dancing. At the most difficult times, we even rented out part of the dressing room to survive.

With the government support, we were finally able to do a major makeover in 2007. General renovation aside, the playing equipment was also updated. Digital film replaced the traditional film strip, and we restructured the one large room into a large one and two small ones.

We joined a theater chain and introduced an automatic office management system, which optimized our work processes and brought back guests. The first year after the renovation, we earned a box office of 3 million yuan (US$450,000). The rising trend lasted for several years and in 2015, our annual income had gone beyond 10 million yuan.

More challenges followed as various cinemas started to flourish in the district from 2017. The competition in the market was fierce, and again we saw a decline in our box office. It was the time we made some changes.

Last year, we gave the theater another facelift with a brand-new hall like a cafe to make the waiting viewers more comfortable and an upgraded Dolby Atmos audio equipment for a better viewing experience.

When the major business of film playing is guaranteed, we also plan to spur diversified development to build the theater into an ideal site for family events, educational and training sessions, exhibitions and performances.

Since then we have held activities such as non-profit fairs and experience events including bookmark making.

We have also joined a dozen qualified training institutions in the district and will launch different non-profit art lessons in the future.

A voluntary team has been formed delivering quality films so that more people can see them. In 2019, we have shown over 100 sessions of films in schools, communities and parks.

As people embrace a better life and more choices, it is undeniable that our theater will no longer be as crowded as it used to be. Today, there are more than 20 cinemas in Jiading, scattered everywhere with a wide coverage.

Online ticket buying and seat selecting are so convenient, and viewers demand not only quality films, but also a quality environment to sit in as they watch the films.

Yet we are pleased to see our “cultural living room” prosper. To have a general idea of the ongoing cultural events, the online platform of Culture Jiading Cloud will show schedules of libraries, museums and galleries in the district and offer reservation services.


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