Myanmar had one of the most prolific and vibrant movie industries in Southeast Asia during the first half of the 20th century, where Myanmar movies rivaled international imports in local popularity for years. The result was a cinephile culture that supported over three hundred theaters throughout the country, of which only a fraction remains today.
Waziya is the oldest cinema in Yangon and is situated the heart of what was once known as “cinema row” in the center of the city. Formerly known as the Excelsior, it began as a live theater but was transformed into a cinema hall as the film medium rose in popularity. The movie industry was nationalized in 1968, and in 1985 Waziya was restored to live theatre, showcasing plays written by famous writer/directors such as Bokalay Tint Aung, Dagon Tin Win, and Gita-lu-lin Maung Ko Ko.
In 1999 the Waziya returned to use as a cinema when the Ministry of Information leased the building to the Myanmar Motion Picture Association (MMPA), an NGO representing film industry, in order to raise funds for the organization. A shared vision between MMPA and the Yangon Heritage Trust is to renovate and restore the historical Waziya into a modern cinema and performance arts space in the center of Yangon. Working closely with the Myanmar Motion Picture Association, YHT is proposing a restoration of the historical Waziya Cinema in the center of Yangon. Through a heritage assessment process, YHT will decipher the most appropriate plans to conserve the building while preparing it for a new life as a central entertainment hub in Yangon. Initial ideas include renovating the building’s interior, retrofitting the theater with digital technology, improving the lighting and audio capabilities for movies and live theater performances, and creating a lobby museum to display historical artifacts from the history of the Myanmar film industry.