Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mutilated Cinema Row and other movie theater missives from Myanmar

Round 3 of the Myanmar Movie Theater Survey has come to a close. What was supposed to be a full 28 day-long expedition screeched to a premature halt, unfortunately, about a third of the way into it. A freak accident involving a scorching hot motorcycle tailpipe put a second degree burn on my heel, totally incapacitating me.

Likewise, the survey got off to an equally slow start, albeit not by my own doing. Demolitions and a cyclone simply left a dearth of material to document during the first leg of the trip.

But as bad as it all sounds, the in between was very productive, yielding almost as many new insights into Myanmar's movie theater archaeology as it did new photographs of old theaters. Above all else, it made me realize that 3 rounds of photography for Myanmar is not enough. Rounds 4 and 5 are thus in the pipeline.

The highlight of the survey was a panel talk on the subject of movie theater preservation held at Myanmar Deitta Gallery. The round table discussion took place in conjunction with an exhibition of Myanmar's Vanishing Movie Theaters, consisting of 15 images from my previous Myanmar surveys. About 60 people showed up for the talk, the main agenda of which was to draw attention to the plight of the Waziya Cinema - perhaps Myanmar's oldest existing cinema hall  

The low point of the trip - burned heel aside - was the fact that I waited 5 years to do it. About half of the theaters that I visited on this trip had closed down within that time frame. Others were demolished. Many vacant lots stood in place of what only a few years before was a mid-century movie theater. 

The most obvious loss to Myanmar's movie theater heritage since my last survey is "Cinema Row." Once the highest concentration of stand-alone movie theaters anywhere in Southeast Asia, the downtown Yangon strip went from having six theaters side by side to mere two. A before and after shot depicting the stretch of city is below.

Cinema Row c. 2010

Cinema Row c. 2016

But it's not all bad! As I start organizing my photos and notes I'll be sharing with you some surprisingly positive news from the Myanmar movie theater scene. Believe it or not, there are some interesting trends afoot. And unlike neighboring Thailand, where the crown jewel of movie theaters still faces the threat of demolition, the finest active theaters in Myanmar seem to be in very good hands.

More to come very soon.

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