Thursday, October 19, 2017

A few more of Myanmar's cinema treasures back in business

Before you write off the stand-alone movie theater in Southeast Asia as a dying form from last century, take a look at Myanmar.

Mingala Cinemas, the largest cinema exhibitor and distributor in the country, has been on a tear of late acquiring and refurbishing defunct old movie theaters nationwide. Over the past 3 years they have expanded their holdings beyond their traditional mainstays of Yangon and Mandalay, moving into second and even third tier cities across the country.

Mingala's most recent reopening occurred last week with The Shwe Hintha Cinema in Bago, which a few historically-minded locals claimed is one the oldest existing theaters in the country. The single-screen Art Deco movie hall, situated at one of the cities primary intersections, is now back to screening films on a daily basis following a few years hiatus.

A few shots of the Shwe Hintha Cinema c. 2010, before it closed down.

Plaster work signage of the Shwe Thintha. The name translates to Golden Brahminy Duck, which is the symbol of the Mon people, who founded the city centuries ago. 

But the good news doesn't stop there. A representative from Mingala Cinemas recently announced that renovations have commenced at their most recent acquisition, The King's Cinema of Mawlamyine, Mon State. 

The King's Cinema of Mawlemyine, the most recent acquisition of Mingala Cinemas, currently undergoing renovations

The famous sail sign on the front corner of the King's Cinema

The 72-year old "proto" Brutalist cinema hall, with its signature tiled sail sign facing onto the Salween River waterfront, has been out of operation since 2012. Its reopening will be a welcome addition to Mawlamyine's slow-moving renaissance and a valuable move in the realm of architectural preservation.  

Highly capitalized movie exhibitors aren't usually in the business of preserving historic movie theaters. Especially not in Southeast Asia, where historic preservation gets little traction to begin with. But Mingala Cinemas is doing just that. The company is equally committed to sustaining decades old landmarks as they are to growing their business. In an age of rapid development and the casting off of the old for the new, Mingala's approach to expansion is a breath of fresh air. 

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