Fortunately, the mood in Mandalay was more congenial. Mingalar management in the twice-removed former capital gave the green light to shoot away at their two central Myanmar holdings. With prohibition lifted, my spirits exhumed from the grave and under alluring summer skies, I took aim at the pristine Myoma Cinema.
Dating to only 1998, the Myoma is but a baby in terms of Myanmar movie theaters. Along with two other theaters in Mandalay, all of similar architectural design, it was commissioned by the State's Ministry of Construction. To what this act of beneficence is owed, I can only guess. In the early 1980's, about one-third of Mandalay was destroyed by fire, presumably sending a movie theater or two up in smoke. The Myoma's inception, then, was likely a government effort at breathing new life into the scorched city. In the face of catastrophe, a little cinematic reprieve is a psychological life vest.
The fabled city of Mandalay is as impressive as one might imagine. Founded in 1857 by King Mindon, the city spreads out gridded and geometrically from the Mandalay Palace walls and surrounding moat in the center of town, making it one of Southeast Asia's best walking cities. During daylight hours, an abundance of trees lining the streets shield pedestrians from Myanmar's blistering dry-zone sun. After nightfall the city's residential neighborhoods come to life, as locals take advantage of cooler temperatures to socialize in front of their homes and shops.
Not everything in Mandalay is peachy keen, though. Besides the usual ailing infrastructure common to Myanmar cities, Mandalay's biggest problem is a perennial battle with dust blown in from the surrounding arid countryside. When the wind gets to blowing that dust kicks up like a Sahara sandstorm. But not to worry! Mandalay's half a dozen cinema halls like the Myoma provide refuge from air-born particulates and all.
Much respect is due to the Mingalar staff up in Mandalay, who broke with company protocol to accommodate the SEA Theater Project. Had permission been granted to shoot the interior, I'd have been dancing a jig all the way to Maymyo. That didn't happen, but a debt of gratitude is owed all the same.
If you should happen to find yourself in Mandalay, duck the heat and check out whatever they're screening over at the Myoma. Doing so will be worth your time, even in the event of a sub-standard film. This might be the only theater in the world that has intricately carved latticework serving as a proscenium, an appealing feature for those with an eye for good architecture.