Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tung Savang VDO - Luang Namtha, Laos

Most of the inhabitants of Luang Namtha are Sino-Tibetan speaking peoples such as the Hmong, Akka, Lisu, Haw Chinese, as well as a sizable Tai Lue population. For centuries, these bucolic highlands have been perched well above much of mainland Southeast Asia; remote, relatively independent and very rural. It wasn't incorporated into Laos until the French consolidated the colonial territory of Indochina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Being so remote and insular as it was for many years, you can imagine what an impact the coming of film had on the local population. Enter the Tung Savang VDO Theater.

The Tung Savang VDO was built in the early 1980's, replacing an older wooden theater dating from some time during the French colonial period. Like all theaters in Laos, after the Communist Party came to power in 1975 the Tung Savang VDO was partially nationalized under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture.

Painted signage atop the Tung Savang VDO Theater.

The Tung Savang VDO was truly an entertainment bastion in this extremely remote part of Laos...

...so much so that the ticket window had to be remodeled to protect the ticket person from the onslaught of movie-crazed crowds hoping to get seats. A builder doing some renovation work on the Tung Savang VDO recalled that as a kid movie-goers were so ecstatic to buy tickets that the ticket window would be bombarded with people throwing money, willy-nilly, in the face of the ticket seller. To create some order, two little holes, just big enough for one hand at a time to pass through were punched in the wall.


Wooden bench seats: row S.

The Tung Savang VDO is being renovated and turned into an activities center for the town of Luang Namtha. The wooden poles running down the middle are to help reinforce the old ceiling. They were not there originally.

In the above photo, contractors are recalling the life and death of the Tung Savang VDO from its foyer. How it came to be called VDO is not clear, as it showed film movies while it was operating, not video. The original building was wood, so I imagine when it was rebuilt from brick and concrete in the early 1980's it got the name VDO to keep with the most current theme.

Tung Savang was likely the family name of the original owner, but the theater now belongs to the Lao Ministry of Culture.

The Tung Savang VDO Theater has been closed since 1996, shortly after Laos began allowing slightly freer trade and the importing of TV's.

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