Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nomadic Movie Theater

One of the big annual events on the Bagan plain is the Ananda Festival (more about this in another post). It draws villagers from all over, therefore it also draws vendors from all over, to an ad-hoc market. One of the more interesting makeshift market structures was an enormous hall made entirely of bamboo polls supporting woven matting. It towered above the regular market stalls. It was obvious what it was as the sides of the building were festooned with movie posters. At the entrance, a display provides a list of the various movies being shown. I didn't see any indication of the time each movie was being shown, but people were coming and going through the entrance.

I was very curious to see this woven bamboo mat theater from the inside. Seeing my camera equipment, the doorman waved me though and stepped through the light baffling entrance-way. Inside, a domestic TV crew had just finished taping a story.

My eyes soon adjusted to the dim light and I could clearly look around the interior. It was most certainly not dark inside, but the overhead matting cut out enough light to allow the movie projection. A few large vinyl movie posters hung on the inside wall helped reduce the light filtering through the bamboo structure near the screen. The patrons sat on floor mats and watched the screen.

The movie was a locally produced drama. It was surprising well done from what I could see. It had the same production values as the TV shows I had seen.

Looking around, I knew the place could not cater to a blockbuster movie (although it would hold a lot of people). Of course, it wasn't supposed too. I read about how back in the fifties people used to go to movies just to escape the heat. This place is pretty much the same thing. People here were just getting out of the sun and lounging. While most people watched the screen, some spoke quietly or even read the paper in the dim light. One monk used the occasion to play his hand-held game.

After watching for a little while, I was determined to see the source of this moving picture and went through another light baffling system to get to the projection room. Here, three antique movie projectors were mounted on a platform raised about three feet from the ground. As they clattered away, they projected the movie through small holes cut in the matting. Wires connecting the sound system and the power ran every which way.The technicians operating the system would lounge for several minutes then pounce on one of the projectors to make adjustments to it. They required a considerable amount of attention.

Ever inspired by this land of working antiques, I tried to find some information on the projectors. The oldest model is labeled "The Regal Kalee Type NL" while I could not make out the more recent projectors. I know the Kalee model was used in the second world war and would not be at all surprised if this unit had been used to entertain the troops in those days.

On the way out, I took some time to see how the place was actually constructed. The builders used a series of booms to hold up the cross braces supporting the ceiling. There were no nails. Everything was held together using strips of bamboo twine. An impressive feat for those of us all to familiar with prefabricated structures.

See larger photos here.

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