Before TV, we had cinemas. Remember them? And they were not in malls.


The Ma Win Rama Theatre

Before screens came to you on live feed, on a mobile phone, through computers and home TVs, you actually had to leave the house to watch something decent.

SEAMP Lak Meuang Cinema - Kalasin, Thailand

These were specially built buildings called theatres, were where you went to watch movies. Not in a shopping mall.

SEAMP YANGON The Waziya Cinema on Bogyoke Aung San Rd

These standalone theatres in Southeast Asia started falling into disuse and disrepair as cinema-goers declined and as demand for digital projection technology increased.

SEAMP Mahachai Rama IMG5

The fate of these theatres will be likely demolition and redevelopment. Only a handful are still functioning, says Phil Jablon of the Southeast Asian Movie Theatre Project.

Phil has lived in Thailand in the last decade and has travelled to villages in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to research, document these theatres.

“These cinemas represent a certain lifestyle,” he says. “When they were built, these were monumental structures in their towns, yet they had a very personal, human-scale feel to them, which has disappeared from a lot of places around the world — especially when it comes to moviegoing.

“And architecturally, they’re unique; they can be beautiful, alluring, a bit creepy, or all of the above.”

SEAMP Bangkok's Scala Theater IMG1

The architecture and aesthetics are stunning. (See Burmese polychromes, Burmese art-deco & Thai dimensional signages).

Through his research, he also has a rich collection of personal stories, such as the two men featured below. Both men painted movie posters! One is now a mayor!

SEAMP Chalerm Thongkham Theater the only mayor of a Thai city that started out as a poster painter at a movie theater Img2

SEAMP Wik Kru Thawee former poster painter

Phil produced a short documentary about his visit to a small theatre outside of Sukhothai City, The Ma Win Rama. He speaks to a villager about her memories of the place as she leads him to a boarded theatre.

It’s a really short documentary, but there’s a real sense of adventure and discovery!

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Phil is working to conservationists to restore a theatre in Chiang Mai. He and a team of conservationists aim to reposition its relevance as a part of the commercial and cultural community in Chiang Mai, and to promote it as a sustainable multi-use venue. (More in this interview)

Join Phil’s Facebook page or his Youtube channel more updates!

All featured photos used with permission. Thanks, Phil!

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