Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Kemarat Cinema - Keng Tung, Shan State, Burma

Ladies and gentlemen, this marks my debut movie theater from Burma - the Kemarat Cinema. Beyond the name, I learned very little about the Kemarat. The taxi driver I hired to take me from the border town of Tha Kyi Leik to Keng Tung, his home town, remembers watching Bruce Lee movies there as a child and recalls the carnival-like atmosphere surrounding the theater. It shut down in the 1990's.

The Kemarat Cinema, in street-scape context.

The facade of the Kemarat Cinema boasts of an art-deco design.

Front entrance, leading directly to the balcony.

This sign was above the ticket window.

Auditorium view from the balcony. Around the outside top of the auditorium there is a narrow walkway, giving access to those upper windows. I imagine that during packed shows people would watch through those windows.

After entering the front gate, this staircase shot off in two directions, leading to the balcony. Mezzanine level seating was accessed through french doors along the side of the auditorium.

What used to be a movie theater is now home to this old woman and her daughter. I don't speak Burmese, or Shan, so our communication was limited to visual pleasantries - a reminder that if I intend on doing more research in Burma, which I definitely am, I'm going to have to find a guide.
Keng Tung was love at first site for me. The relaxed pace of things, combined with a sturdy stock of low-rise, brick buildings and city plan more conducive to the bicycle, or my personal favorite - the shoe leather express, than the car, gave Keng Tung an endearing charm. As a first foray into Burma it definitely sparked my interest in exploring more of the country. I was a bit disappointed, though, to find Keng Tung without any functioning movie theaters. Due to the government's backward economic policy, much of Burma's urban infrastructure and the social patterns that it supports have changed little from forty-odd years ago. Ironically, thanks in part to this socioeconomic stranglehold, Burma apparently has one of the highest rates of operational stand-alone theaters in the world.

With any luck there will be much to come from this hermit nation.

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