Monday, November 28, 2011

Exhibit at Luang Prabang Film Festival, Dec. 3rd - 7th

The UNESCO World Heritage City and former Lao capital, Luang Prabang, will in December be hosting the 2nd annual Luang Prabang Film Festisval. Over 50 films from across Southeast Asia will be screened at the 5-day long event taking place from December 3rd - 7th.

Check out the promo video below:

Included in the festivities, a photo exhibition from the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project will be held at Project Space Gallery. So if you're around for the movies, don't forget to drop by and check out some photos of old movie theaters.

There will be lots of events and various kinds of screenings taking place this year. I am especially looking forward to the collection of Pathet Lao propaganda films from the 1960's and 70's that the Ministry of Information has dug out of its vaults.

Luang Prabang is easily one of the most beautiful little cities in the region, if not the world. You'd be hard pressed to find a more opportune place to hold a film fest.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Sri Pong Cineplex - Phimai District, Khorat, Thailand

The civilizational record in Phimai dates back ten centuries to the once-powerful Ankorian Khmers. Masters of hydrology like the current Bangkok authorities could only dream, imperial Angkor built its empire through the careful retention and management of water. They legitimized their rule via monumental architecture, like the temple shown here in the center of modern Phimai town.

Phimai Historical Park, with its manicured landscaping and curation, is the showcase of the town. The rest of the city feeds off its magnanimity, takes a cue from it.

A wall surrounds Phimai. Not an ancient one like can be found ringing other Thai towns, but a modern wall built of concrete and rebar. The wall has succeeded in keeping out invaders. Most notably, hypermarket retailers and big chain stores, a lone 7-11 the exception. Local moms and pops are protected from such predatory schemers. Car congestion is also nipped in the bud by this defensive mechanism. The result is one of the most pleasant towns Thailand has to offer.

The insulation provided by the wall and the pride taken in Phimai's ancient stone heritage was palpable. Locals seemed to relish the quiet, the human scale and neighborly atmosphere. It was detectable at the Sri Pong Cineplex, where expectant crowds, mostly families and young couples, gathered under the theater's awning, reclined in easy conversation while waiting for the doors to open.

A plain, but honest design.
The Sri Pong is a second generation movie theater. Just six years ago it replaced an old wooden theater dating to the 1950's, which was apparently falling apart. Instead of easing out of the theater business, using the land for some lesser purpose - a parking lot, a warehouse, a watering hole with cheap plastic chairs and tables - the proprietary family built anew, naming it in honor of the husband's deceased father-cum-founder of the old wooden theater, Mr. Pong.

At six years old the Sri Pong is the newest independently-owned stand-alone I've come across is Thailand.

Young step-climbers.

Three teens pull up on a motorbike to see what's in the movie queue.

Being as new as it is, the Sri Pong is equipped with all the latest technologies. The Dolby Digital surround sound was crisp, the projection sharp. A Thai rendition of the Kurasawa masterpiece "Roshomon," called "The Outrage," proved the point, and turned out to be a decent movie in the process.

The Sri Pong Cineplex is the cherry on the top of a great little town.

The owner collects viewing fare at the door, as young patrons shuffle through.

Rolling credits, departing crowds.

The grand exit was copacetic, cinematic even, left alone under the fluorescent external lights of the Sri Pong. It's this quality of the stand-alone theater which attracts me so: whether solitary or in the presence of a large crowd, the exit from the theater to the streets marks a return from fantasy to reality in which the two are temporarily blended. An intangible, maybe, coming from one who's spent his life on foot, but no less real.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cinema sentiments in the Asia Sentinel

One of my favorite sources for news across Asia just published a piece I wrote about Southeast Asia's vanishing stand-alones.

See it here in the Asia Sentinel

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Saeng Si Theater - Bua Yai District, Khorat Province, Thailand

Bua Yai is a train town. A train junction town, to be more specific. Here the Nong Khai - Bangkok line grows a spur which cuts over to the west, towards Chaiyaphum Province - though never actually reaching the provincial capital itself.

Remnants of old Thailand, the one that grew up in the decades prior to the highway boom, are easily found in train towns. Streets and sois developed in the absence of the car in train towns. Buildings tend to huddle together, dense, low-rise, along narrow streets, stretching out like ribbons parallel to the tracks. This is where commerce would have been at its most brisk in the days before trucking.

Only river towns can rival train towns for the lover of antiquity. Riparian trade predates the train system, thus spawned a stock of vernacular architecture, mostly wooden, older and increasingly harder to find than what developed in the era of the locomotive. Since neither the train nor rivers represent particularly robust portions of the economy these days, both river towns and train towns tend to retain older charms lost to towns which sit on major highways. For the best in early-modern Thai antiquity, one must visit a town which has both a train station and a river port, but no highway.

Nestled within Bua Yai's narrow lanes, just a block from the train tracks, stands the Saeng Si Theater. Presumably a product of the Thai movie theater boom years (late 1960's to the mid-1970's), today the Saeng Si limps on, a shadow of its former self, with movies only shown during weekends. Fortunately for me, it was a Saturday when I was in Bua Yai. Unfortunately for me, the flooding down in central Thailand had impeded the distribution company from delivering its scheduled film. The Saeng Si Theater was dealt another blow, while I was left kicking the can in Bua Yai, unable to deliver on what I came to do.

The entrance to the Saeng Si Theater has been changed from the front to the side door. The front of the theater has been rented out to a clothing shop. Something tells me this one won't be around much longer.

Door designs

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Chumphae Theater - Chumphae, Khon Kaen Province, Thailand

Roaming Chumphae inevitably brought me to its other, much older, decommissioned cinema in the heart of the town's traditional commercial core. Long departed as a house of entertainment, the former Chumphae Theater nonetheless has been smartly repurposed to serve a current need. The building's walls were removed, leaving only structural support columns, its facade and roof, as the former auditorium was turned into a fresh market. In place of its rows of seats, dozens of vendors, hawking everything from raw meats to cheap electronics, have set up shop. Locals refer to is as the old Chumphae Theater Market.

Facade of the former Chumphae Theater. The outline of the marquee is still visible just above the tin awning.

Market interior, looking towards what was once the rear of the theater, and balcony-level seating.

Reintegrating out-moded structures, be they old movie theaters or otherwise, when appropriate, is a cornerstone of urban renovation and renewal. It not only saves on costs of demolition and reconstruction, but it draws a link between the past and present, imbues a sense of historical identity.

Ryszrard Kapuscinski perhaps put it best regarding the tendency to destroy old neighborhoods in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku to build anew:

"Today expansion is difficult and risky. As a rule, broadening ends in narrowing, and that is why nations must satisfy the instinct for breadth with a feeling of depth, which means reaching into the depths of history to demonstrate their strength and significance."

(Kapuscinski, Ryszard. 1993 - Imperium. Vintage Press)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Photo Exhibit at Cinemanila

A second film festival exhibit in as many months is in the works for the SEA Movie Theater Project. Cinemanila International Film Festival, the Philippines premiere film festival - also its longest running - will be displaying a series of my photos at one of their venues. I won't be in attendance this time around like I was at last month's Busan International Film Festival, but that shouldn't detract from the good times. Among the Cinemanila festivities, one of my favorite horror directors of all time, the legendary Dario Argento, will be receiving a lifetime achievement award.

The 13th annual Cinemanila Int'l Film Fest will be taking place from November 11th - 17th, in the Tauguig City area of Metro Manila. If you should happen to be in the vicinity, check out some hot new flicks from around the world. And keep an eye out for some photos of stand-alone movie theaters!