Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Win Cinema - Shwebo, Sagaing Region, Myanmar

One can be excused for not noticing the Win Cinema, as it looks more like a house than a movie theater. The humble neighborhood cinema hall - the last one operating in Shwebo - blends in to its residential block like a lizard on a leaf. None of the telltale features of movie theater architecture, whether the Burmese variety or otherwise, announce its presence. Aside from its name, unassumingly molded onto the peak of the facade, only the large vinyl movie billboard festooned to its front betrays the silver screen that lies beyond. 

Beyond that it basically looks like a home. 

The ever humble and slightly Tudor-esque Win Cinema.

Simple signage on The Win Cinema

A stroll down the side alley to the left of the building, however, reveals its movie theater organs. Here is where the show begins, where the ticket window, concession stands, poster cases and the like usher the movie goer into a world of escape. This demure little chasm has been, since 1963, Shwebo's entrance to the other.   

Smiling faces behind the ticket window

View of the side of The Win


Ticket taker at the Win Cinema casually awaits customers while enjoying a cigarette and surfing the web.

Living time capsules like the Win Cinema are fast disappearing from Myanmar's towns and cities. This is no big surprise. In the past few years, Myanmar society has arguably changed faster than it has in any other similar time frame in its history.

In general, the technological and social changes which sweep relics like The Win into the dust bin of history are silent, rendering the loss little noticed. To the average person going about their daily lives focused on work, family, education, etc - the loss doesn't register until well after the fact. Suddenly, somehow, something causes us to think about it, we do the mental math and calculate how and why the thing disappeared. We come to conclusions - "it was nice while it lasted, but things are better the way they are now," or " life would be better if we still had that thing around." Either way the thing becomes an object of history, a morsel of legend to be bequeathed to next of kin and future generations, if it is remembered at all. 

Woven bamboo ceilings, exposed wooden truss beams and teak wood seats are some of the memorable details of The Win Cinema's very homey auditorium. If ever there was a theater that had the coziness of a house, it's The Win.  

Stickers on the backs of chairs.

Whether or not anybody will ever lament the loss of a little neighborhood movie theater that looks more like a house, with a woven bamboo ceiling pierced by exposed wooded trusses, is yet to be seen. In March of 2016 it was still up and running, but how much longer it can remain so is the question. If it were to close down, it's doubtful that many folks in little Shwebo would think too hard about it. Most people might not even notice. In fact, a place like The Win would close simply because the people who were once regulars stopped coming, choosing to watch movies in more immediate formats.

Only in hindsight will the loss be noticed. 

Projectionists manning the carbon-arc two-reel projectors, technology in place since the 1960's.

But for now The Win Cinema carries on, a living relic of a recent past. Maybe as the world changes, the equation will rework itself favorably to The Win, and instead of a destiny of darkness, if will get a second wind and live on.

It's nice to have these places around.

The Win Cinema at night

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