I'm loving the neon...

The Ala Too Cinema in Bishkek

Published: February 15, 2014

Ала Тоо Кинотеатр/Ala Too Cinema
187 пр. Чуй
hours depend on movie times, usually starting in the early afternoon and finishing in the late evening
Movies for less than $5

Hello, and welcome to Bishkek. I just arrived here a few days ago for my semester abroad, and I already love this city. On the day that I arrived, Jyldyz, the awesome coordinator in Bishkek for SRAS students, took us on a tour of the city. I was getting good vibrations from the city already. I noticed several cinemas within a few blocks of each other. So, I decided that I am going to get my fix of movies while I am here. The first theater that we walked by was the Ала Тоо (Ala Too) theater, and it was the exact opposite of what I expected a Kyrgyz cinema to be like. Truth be told, I pictured Kyrgyz cinemas to be derelict, barely functioning dark rooms with a few seats, and a curtain that at one point was white, but which would now be tannish from neglect, onto which the movie would be projected.

Yes… look at all of that delicious beer…

How wrong I was. Firstly, the Ала Тоо cinema has a beautiful façade complete with tall pillars and mosaics. I purchased my ticket for Johnny Knoxville’s Bad Grandpa for a decent 250 som ($4.92) at the box office on the side of the building and then entered. I immediately saw behind the counter something beautiful. Beer. Beer everywhere. Not only can you drink beer in Kyrgyz cinemas, but the beer portions that they drink in Kyrgyzstan are a fair bit larger than American portions.  As in the portions they drink in movie theaters are bigger than the portions we drink in bars. So I bought myself a 660ml bottle of Stella, which was 136 som ($2.67).

After the amazement of the beer aspect, my attention turned to the beautiful interior. The floor had tiling that you could tell someone put time into in creating and making it look nice.

The cinema during the day… I prefer it at night (see above).

Entering the actual theater itself I saw about 20-30 people in the audience, mostly dates, as the previews began. The seat was comfy, and the cup holder more than accommodated my large beer. I saw trailers for Russian movies, American movies, as well as Kyrgyz movies. It was a pleasant surprise to know that Kyrgyzstan has its own film industry. The movie played in Russian, and I think something about it being in Russian added to the fun and absurdity of the situation. This particular crowd really got into the movie, and whether or not this is how most people in Kyrgyzstan see movies, or only this group, it was a good bit of fun. The whole theater reacted with the movie during each and every gross joke and poignant moment with bountiful laughs, sorrowful sighs and the occasional person talking to the screen. I like seeing movies in groups like this. Heck, I could even hear the projectionist behind me hollering and laughing at the movie.

When the movie finished, I exited the building and turned around and saw the cinema all lit up with the neon lights that I have so come to associate with Bishkek. The theater looked very beautiful to me in its own unique way. I decided to take a walk back to the dorms instead of hopping the trolley because during the film it started snowing outside, and it was a particularly beautiful night. I like the Ала Тоо cinema, and I have a feeling that I will be spending a lot more time there drinking beer and aggressively watching movies with the local Kyrgyz people.

About the author

Nick Cappuccino

Nick Cappuccino is currently a junior at CUNY Hunter College in New York City, majoring in Russian language, and double minoring in Geography and German language. Nick has also been studying Persian Farsi for the past two years with instructors from New York City’s ABC language exchange, and Turkish for one year with instructors from New York City’s Ataturk School at the United Nations. He has also studied Russian language at Indiana University’s SWSEEL summer language workshop. Nick is doing his semester abroad with SRAS in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan, where he is studying Russian and Tajik with a Charles Braver Grant.

View all posts by: Nick Cappuccino