Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Myanmar movie theaters in focus

It's been almost six years since my eyes were first opened to the charms of Myanmar's cinema halls. Six long years since that first foray into a country flush with stand-alones and where most towns still had the almost virginal grace of not being beholden to the automobile, or its requisite bedfellows in space-consuming infrastructure. I mention that because, besides the fact that I'm seriously prone to road rage, cars are the main cause of decline in stand-alone movie theaters. Not home entertainment systems, DVD's, VCR's and such things as most prevailing logic assumes. Yes, those gadgets play a strong role, but if cinema-going was killed off by home entertainment then why, at present, are there more movie screens in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and a half dozen other Thai cities than there ever has been in history? The answer is because 99.9% of those screens are in shopping malls, the primary access point for which is the parking garage, via car, and Thailand is a car dependent country. Oil addicted, one might say. Going to the movies is still a beloved pass-time, but now a huge percent of those able to afford a movie ticket in Thailand live in car dependent suburbs, or are simply just accustomed to driving everywhere. The thousand seat stand-alone movie theater that once stood in the heart of town didn't supply secured parking. The multiplex theater in the shopping mall at the edge of town does. But I digress.

My last trip to Myanmar for a theater survey was back in January, 2011. Five years ago. That netted me a huge amount of photographic content from Shan State, Magwe, Bago and Thanintharyi divisions. Ever since then I've been yearning to get back there to pick up where I left off. By my estimates, there are are still a solid 30 or 40 old theaters yet to be documented in Myanmar, a good portion of which may still be in operation. But that number is dropping fast.

After mulling it over, I decided that there's no better time than the present. Tomorrow, February 18th, I'm flying over to Yangon to start a third Myanmar movie theater survey. This trip will hopefully lead me trough Irrawaddy Division, then back up to Shan State, into Kachin State, back down through Sagaign, Mandalay, Magwe and Bago Divisions, and ultimately into Mon and Karen states. I'm not sure that all of that is possible given only 28 days, but I will do my best.

In addition to the survey there will be a photo exhibition of some of my past work in Myanmar opening on February 20th at Myanmar Deitta Gallery on 44th Street just off Merchant Road in downtown Yangon. All 15 images on display will be for sale to help offset the cost of this expedition.

The highlight of this exhibition will be a panel discussion on the important social and cultural role of the cinema hall. Aside from myself, panelists will include US Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell; Yangon Heritage Trust director Daw Moe Moe Lwin; Director of Urban Planning for the Yangon City Development Committee Dr. Toe Aung and Myanmar Motion Picture Organization Patron U Aung Lwin. Our talk will hopefully build awareness to the plight of the Waziya Cinema a classic downtown movie palace in Yangon which recently closed down.

Below are a collection of photos of Myanmar cinema halls that have either closed or been demolished since I was last there.

Thida Cinema - Yangon. Closed 2013

Kemarat Cinema, Keng Tung, Shan State. Demolished 2012

Win Cinema, Toungoo, Bago Division. Demolished 2012

Shwe Mann Cinema, Yangon. Demolished 2012

Myoma and Shwe Gon cinemas, Yangon. Demolished 2012

King Cinema, Yangon. Demolished 2012

Hsoo Htoo Pan Cinema, Yangon. Demolished 2012