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Southeast Asia's independent movie theaters show face of bygone era

'Cinema detective' documents scores of closures -- and a few survivors

When the Somdet Theater opened in 1981 it had to be powered by a gas generator because that area of northeastern Thailand had yet to be linked to the electricity grid. (Courtesy of Philip Jablon)

BANGKOK -- Philip Jablon was studying for a degree in sustainable development at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand when he wandered down a local lane and discovered an old cinema that looked like a relic from an earlier era.

Struck by its nostalgic charm, Jablon, an American photographer and cultural researcher, was eager to see a film playing on the big screen at this throwback movie theater. But by the time he arranged a return visit, the cinema had been demolished.

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