Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Aung Tha Pyae Cinema - Kamawet Township, Mon State, Myanmar

In the great anachronism that is Myanmar (and I mean that as a compliment), the stand-alone movie theater abides. But barely. As the country gives embrace to the digital age, with its Pandora's box of new movie-watching platforms, the great public culture embodied in the stand-alone movie theater is finding itself cocooned a metamorphic stage. What it will look like in five to ten years is anyone's guess. 

Mon State, it turns out, is one of a few provinces that is a cinema dead zone. All but one of the State's inventory of oldies is in working condition, and that lone operator exists in the most unlikely of places: The glorified village of Kamawet.

For all practical purposes, Kamawet is a village. Even though it's administrative title is Township (the 3rd highest administrative level in the country) it looks and feels diminutive, villagesque, with an arboreal lushness that adds to the atmosphere. Not the kind of place one might expect to find a working movie theater.   

Street level with the Aung Tha Pyae Cinema, one of the most endearing bare bones movie houses you're ever likely to see. 

The Aung Tha Pyae Cinema is the definition of vernacular architecture. If the down home simplicity of its exterior isn't enough to convince you, then just take a peak inside. From the brick patterned flooring, to the threadbare curtains framing a simple cloth screen, right down to the hand-cut wooden seats, every inch of this theater echoes local craftsmanship. Skilled, yes; professionally trained, absolutely not. No chic accents or, or trendy flourishes mark this design. For the patrons of the Aung Tha Pyae, an appetite for the creature comforts required by movie-goers in most industrialized societies has yet to materialize. Could you, with your digital-age savvy, imagine sitting through a feature length film on a wooden plank? I don't think so.

Elevated view shows the Aung Tha Pyae Cinema looking not all that different from most other structures in Kamawet. 

Corridor from the lobby to the main auditorium

Perhaps the oddest form of seating ever found in a movie theater: three planks on one bench foundation, only one row of seating equipped with a backrest. 

The more luxurious balcony seating consists of rows of plastic chairs fastened together with a long wooden board.

The ever rare Myanmar production that's still made on film can play at the Aung Tha Pyae Cinema thanks to its vintage ShinKyo 35 mm projectors.

Before you get any cockamamie ideas of traveling all the way to Kamawet to watch a movie in what is clearly one of worlds most guileless movie theaters, you should know that these days The Aung Tha Pyae only screens a movie once, at most twice, per month. According to the owner, pictured in the photo above, Kamawet is such a small market that most distributors don't even bother bringing reels through.  

That said, it would be a real treat to see this theater up and running on one of those precious movie nights; in this time capsule of a glorified village in deepest Mon State. 

Ticket for the Aung Tha Pyae Cinema