Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Sandar Myaint Cinema - Yangon, Myanmar

In a country where the majority of old movie houses were built with pride and high craftsmanship, the Sandar Myaint Cinema calls to mind a minimum security prison. All it needs is a chain link fence with barbed wire on the top and it fits the bill to a tee. No awards for architectural design are going out to this one, that's for sure.

It's worth mentioning, however, that the theater ceased showing movies a number of years ago. Now it serves as a warehouse for non-perishables. Its stark appearance probably has something to do with that. Moreover, it's possible that in its hey day the Sandar Myaint boasted of cosmetic ornamentation that has since been removed for safety reasons, painted over, or simply left to fade in the sun. That is to say, don't let its beastly present overshadow a potentially illustrious past. Sure enough, there is one tell-tale sign indicating that there's more than meets the eye.

Baby blue never looked so menacing as it does on the Sandar Myaint Cinema

Green on blue

One of the Sandar Myaint's entrances is equipped with this tell-tale gate, featuring a pattern of A's and 1's repeated over and over. If my conjecture is correct, this represents the A-1 Film Company, one of Myanmar's most prolific movie studios of yesteryear. This family-owned and operated company produced many of Burma's most beloved films of decades passed, helping to grow the Burmese film industry into one of the most advanced in Southeast Asia. But like almost everything which was once first-rate in the country, years of hardship under an oppressive ruling regime has forced the A-1 studio out of business and led to one of the most negligible national film industries anywhere.

For an extreme - if not telling - example of how the present-day film industry in Myanmar has fallen from grace, watch the recently released documentary "This Prison Where I Live." It tells the story of Zarganar, Myanmar's top comedian, director and movie star, who is now languishing in jail under a 59-year sentence. This is a poignant documentary, with an important agenda, yet brimming with moments of hilarity so representative of the man it's about. Highly recommended!

Ticket window stills

Hand made switch board in the ticket window.

Flaking paint on the balcony staircase.

As if the Sandar Myaint lives on as a cinema, a vendor selling pop-corn does business beneath the awning. Ice cream is available as well.

Myanmar style signage.

Whether or not the Sandar Myaint was once owned by the A-1 Film Co. is not known, though the A's and 1's welded into the front gate certainly give that impression. This is a bit of data I hope to have answered in the future, along with much more about Myanmar's once prestigious movie studios. Currently there is a dearth of available literature on the subject.

To see the Sandar Myaint with your own eyes, head out to the intersection of Pyay Road and Than Street, in Yangon's Hlaing neighborhood.

Sandar Myaint translates to "Abode of the Moon."

There's no available data as to when it was constructed.

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