In February last year I wrote about cinemas in Brunei. Recently I was in KB and my uncle was pointing out to me where the projector house used to be in the padang in front of the mosque. A conversation with a number of other people meant that I have more information. So I thought I will bring back that old posting of mine and edit it to include all the new information.
In the 1960s and 1970s I remembered going to the padang in Muara watching movies being played there. There will be lots and lots of people there – all watching black and white movies. I don’t think the movies were in colour then. I remembered my dad used to own one of those home movie projectors and every time we stayed at my auntie’s place in Seria, he would play one of those silent movies and there would be lots of people watching it. It was unbelievable. Dad used to be one of the first to own a home movie equipment and we would get to see ourselves on screen after he has sent off the film for processing somewhere in the world. Today, in the days of 50 inch plasma television with multi media multi surround home movie equipment, those days were almost unthinkable. Though ironically, despite our new found wealth – we still buy $5 pirated DVD. But today’s topic is not about $5 pirated DVDs but rather on the growth of cinemas in Brunei.
For some reason, cinemas never found a strong foothold in Brunei. Before the first world war, there was one cinema but it was destroyed during the war. It was rebuilt as the Boon Pang and later on in Bandar, we had three - the Boon Pang, the Bolkiah and the Borneo, the latter two built in the 1950s. The Boon Pang is now gone replaced by the BIBD building. The Boon Pang had an interesting history. It was once used as a detention centre for a few months. After the 1962 rebellion, the army rounded up all the detainees and placed them in the open tennis court areas at the padang. The Police Station in front of the mosque was still there then. The detainees were eventually removed to the Boon Pang to keep them from being out in the open and while preparing the teacher training institute in Berakas as a detention centre for long term placements.
Other than the Boon Pang, the Borneo and Bolkiah are still there though I have never been inside either one. So I don’t know what the places look like. I don’t even know what movies are currently being shown there. The Bolkiah I have been told has been upgraded and one should go there at least to find out the better experience of watching a movie in a full size cinema unlike the miniscule ones in the Empire or the Mall. The Empire’s and the Mall’s multiplexes are today’s in-thing. We no longer have huge cinemas but small ones catering to smaller crowds. Though on a good day, these multiplexes would play the same movie spanning across three or four cinemas. Another cinema was the Seri at Batu Satu, Jalan Tutong. That did not survive for long. At first run by the owner but later on by the Chinese Chambers. It did not make much money and was razed down when the owners were thinking of building a hotel there.
I thought there was an old cinema in Tutong but I could not be sure where it was. My cousin's husband, a Tutongian said he used to go to the cinema. He said it did not have a name. I vaguely remembered it. It was somewhere opposite the Police Station, well not directly opposite sort of diagonally opposite.
I know in KB, there are at least 4 cinemas previously. The Roxana has been razed down. Roxana was said to be structurally unsound. It is now an empty lot. Another cinema in Kuala Belait was the Capital. This is I have been told somewhere near the SKBB Plaza or around that area. My uncle said it was nearer the Town Hall. So far I have not been able to get a photograph of that place. It would have been interesting to see a cinema smack in the middle of Kuala Belait. Roxana was a few miles away from KB and not a true KB cinema but more of a Seria cinema.
If I am not mistaken the Marina is still standing but whether it is still functioning that’s another matter. Maybe someone from Belait can elighten me. It used to be a grand building when Seria was completed in the 1950s. The OGDC is now being used as a cinema which is good as at least people from Belait has someplace to watch. Another one which people still remembered is the Puspa which was somewhere at the back of the Seria filling station.
Today we have the Empire, the Mall and the Q Lap Mall all providing multiplexes and the Borneo and Bolkiah still providing the old fashioned single screen type. I am not sure what format OGDC in Seria shows. Probably the single screen type.