Thursday, March 24, 2016

The San Thit Cinema - Ma-ubin, Irrawaddy Region, Myanmar

The San Thit Cinema stands just in front of the docks at Ma-ubin on the gently rolling Myitmaka River. The building itself is barely visible from the street due to its placement below street level and obscured behind a strip of one story shop houses that face the thoroughfare. Behind the theater, surrounding it on three of its four sides, are low slung warehousing facilities holding goods brought up off  and destined for the boats below. Bundles of raw tobacco, jars of various spices and sacks of rice are piled floor to ceiling in these wooden godowns, which are connected to each other, the waterfront and the cinema by a warren of narrow lanes. It's an ecosystem of transit, trade and leisure so tightly intertwined that it's as if it were a living organism. 

The waterfront scene at Ma-ubin is typical for a modestly sized port town in the Irrawaddy Delta. At just 40 miles by river west of Yangon, the bustling burg is ideally situated for riparian trade. In former times, one can imagine dock workers breaking from their duties to catch a film at the San Thit Cinema - or the Shwe Aung Cinema, which was just next door. Cinematic reprieve from a life on the waterfront was quite literally just a few steps away.  

Movie posters stapled to boards just above the main entrance of the San Thit Cinema

Ticket window

Beyond the folding wooden doors of the San Thit Cinema, a sea of hand crafted wooded seats, neatly arranged in narrow rows, unfolds before the eyes. Such a sight is increasingly rare in Myanmar. As the old theaters go out of business, owners sell the seats to antique dealers, usually in neighboring countries like Thailand and China, where a market for such cultural curiosities is quite strong. Alternatively, a handful of theaters in Myanmar have recently been modernized, in which case the old wooden seats have likewise been removed to make room for new cushioned ones.

Auditorium views

In the days before electrical lighting was a staple, natural light served as a means of illumination. The wooden awning windows at the top can be opened and closed to lighten and darken the auditorium as needed. 

Interesting curve in the balcony rail.

Balcony views

Almost all movie theaters in Myanmar feature partitions between every two seats in the back rows, as pictured in the above photo. This addition allows couples attending a film to have a modicum of privacy. In a conservative society like Myanmar, trips to the cinema for young lovers is generally the only privacy they're likely to get. These seats are at a premium because of it.

The man above was the caretaker of the San Thit Cinema. He has been at the San Thit since it opened in 1963, when he was just a young boy. 

Seven months ago the cinema stopped showing movies, though it still opens occasionally to screen football matches via an LCD projector. 

The name San Thit translates to "modern."

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