Cover Psychological thriller Swallow (2019)

Shaw Organisation’s executive vice-president Christopher Shaw shares how the cinema operator is building on its legacy of film production, distribution and exhibition

Like many of his contemporaries in the film and cinema industry, Christopher Shaw grew up before the age of home entertainment—and the only way to watch films was to go to the cinema. “Over the years, I’ve enjoyed all sorts of films on the big screen whether they were studio blockbusters or art house, from the West or East,” shares the executive vice-president of film acquisition and distribution at the Shaw Organisation.

This voracious appetite for film has helped him lead his team to procure releases of all genres and nationalities from international festivals for the Shaw Theatres. He explains, “Watching the crowd react to what is going on the big screen is as exciting to me as the films themselves. In fact, it gave me a ‘good eye’ and understanding as to what audiences liked.” To date, Shaw Theatres has distributed in Singapore the largest number of Oscars Best Picture winners and nominees, including Green Book (2018).

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So when cinemas, including the seven operated by Shaw Theatres (two others are currently closed for renovations), were shuttered in late March at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in Singapore, this astute understanding of what its patrons want came in useful for the cinema operator to pivot its business. It introduced a new digital platform KinoLounge by Shaw Theatres to deliver the magic of films to the comfort of homes. “During this time of the ‘new normal’ when global film festivals and movie releases are migrating online, we launched KinoLounge as a natural evolution of what Shaw Theatres has been doing for almost a century—and that is bringing the best in world cinema to film lovers wherever they may be,” says Shaw.

A film is only selected for KinoLounge if it is critically acclaimed, award-winning or associated with various film festivals, archives and societies. “Unlike the myriad on-demand streamers like Netflix, which are dedicated digital services and essentially a buffet of content, KinoLounge will operate in parallel with Shaw’s physical cinemas, acting as a complementary space to deliver specially curated content—some of which may have had a previous theatrical run (which patrons may have missed), but many would be exclusive to KinoLounge,” enthuses Shaw.

For its launch in July, KinoLounge partnered the Singapore Film Society to showcase psychological thriller Swallow (2019), alongside the documentaries The Painter and the Thief (2020) and Spaceship Earth (2020). The same month, Shaw Theatres also tapped on its close links with the French Embassy—with which it jointly organises the star-studded French Film Festival every November—to launch the first Singapore French Summer Festival. It featured a selection of French movies, many of which are new releases and all exclusive to KinoLounge. In August, five newly restored, digitised P Ramlee classic movies, including Ibu Mertua-ku (1962) and Anak-ku Sazali (1956), from the archives of Shaw’s Malay Film Productions were added.

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There is no subscription fee and the movies can be rented for 14 days from as low as $4.99, with 48-hour playback once you press play. Film lovers can also expect to participate in interactive “live” events with the cast and crew of selected films or watch bonus behind-the-scenes features. To ensure an optimal cinema experience, KinoLounge uses Hollywood studio-grade DRM (Digital Rights Management) service that ensures secure playback on an authenticated video player with the highest quality, incorporating geolocation locking and is MPAA (Motion Pictures Association of America) compliant. Other security features also ensure content, payment and privacy is protected.

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Despite KinoLounge being his labour of love, Shaw firmly believes that nothing can—or ever will—replace the big screen. “With the easing of restrictions, a large number of audiences are coming back to the cinema for its immersive social experience. With many big-screen offerings in the months ahead, audiences will no doubt flock back for their blockbusters and popcorn once the pandemic tapers off. That said, KinoLounge will run alongside cinemas as a special space for audiences to discover a curated library of quality films at their own time and place.”

Shaw would know the joy of having access to an exceptional film library for he recently compiled a list of his favourite 100 films for his children. “It was an unexpectedly difficult task because my taste is so varied and ranged from films such as Blade Runner (1982) to Farewell My Concubine (1993).” But the film that best encapsulates how he feels about movies over a lifetime is Cinema Paradiso, which Shaw Theatres distributed in 1988. Rightfully so, as the film tells a riveting story of a young boy’s lifelong love affair with film and cinema­—much like Shaw’s.