Monday, July 12, 2010

The Thwin Cinema - Yangon, Myanmar

Glowing Thwin

Cinema Row - accented by the well-lit Thwin Cinema - looking fairly melancholy after dark.

After dark, the Thwin Cinema's humming florescence casts a reassuring glow down a blackened Cinema Row. Its neighbors to the east, notably shabbier, veiled by the night, take on a slightly sinister appearance; places that seem to offer cinema-plus. But thanks to its ample illumination, the Thwin has avoided an aesthetic of vagrancy. And its function matches its look, to boot.

Movie billboard on the Thwin Cinema's facade.

Under the portico by night

The Thwin owes its high standards to the company that runs it, the Mingalar Group - one of the country's biggest property developers and film production companies. Mingalar leases the Thwin from the government along with another 4 theaters in Yangon and two more in Madalay. For all practical purposes, Mingalar's theaters are the finest in the country, outfitted with the best projection and audio equipment, while attentively maintained in the looks and comforts department. Things are no different at the Thwin. It is easily the cleanest and most up-to-date of the Cinema Row sextet. Unfortunately, it only screens Myanmar-made comedies and romances, which are a bit difficult to watch.

The Thwin Cinema, with it's nearly identical next door neighbor the Su Htoo Pan

Looking right to left: the Thwin, the Su Htoo Pan, the Myoma and the Shwe Gon

Art-deco facade of the Thwin. Date of construction is unknown.

Ticket window and front entrance.

Mingalar Theaters movie guide, above the Thwin's ticket booth.

Travesty of travesties and nagging source of gloom for your Projectionist; bane of my entire trip to Myanmar, in fact, was Mingalar's no-photo policy regarding its theaters - exterior shots included. This obstacle dampened my spirits more than the monsooning skies did. Every time I'd approach a Mingalar-run theater with camera in hand, an admonishing guard would bolt from the lobby to shoo me away. I tried taking my case to theater management, but they wouldn't give me the time of day, only the line "we have no authority at this level." When that failed I went on a charm offensive to the Ministry of Information's Myanmar Motion Picture Enterprise (MMPE), the state agency which owns most of the country's theaters. The managing director there seemed sympathetic to my cause and asked me to send him a written project proposal which he would use to try to leverage my request. But in the end it amounted to nil. "Mingalar is a private company," he reminded me. "We have no authority to make them bend their rules for you. Sorry." Yeah, well I bet if I was the son of a general...

But the trip to the MMPE office wasn't a complete let down. At least I got a little amusement out of it all. While waiting in the managing directors office I spotted a white board hanging on the wall. Scrawled across it in black ink was written "send films to Pyongyang for North Korean Film Festival." Imagine that combination! Two powerhouses of political and artistic repression saddling up for a movie mixer. Which country do you think can make the best film about the benevolence of their respective supreme leader?

Anyway, what you see here of the Thwin Cinema was taken by stealth. Sorry if the selection is a little bit lackluster.

To Mingalar, please forgive me, but I do it in the name of promoting your venues and nothing else.


  1. Have you tried paying a local kid to take the photos for you? Or are you too worried that same kid would simply walk away with your camera? You can buy disposables you know and try it if you ever get a chance.

  2. What I should really do, instead of being a sneak, is try to figure out how to meet somebody who has real authority at Mingalar and plead my case. There is no good reason why they would object to a photo shoot if they knew that it was free international press for their theaters. Good press, at that.

    So many amazing photo shoots missed at the Mingalar theaters. They are the most popular theaters around, thronged with patrons for the majority of shows. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen more lively theaters anywhere.