Burmese Classic Movie 2013The Burmese Classic 2013
It' a classic situation of a comfortable buddy alliance, but it never feels invented. Actors and actresses - directors.
Wherever Myanmar movies are retiring - and dying
When I soon enter the cold, deep vaults, the overwhelming scent of wine vinegar flooded my snout. Rusty, cylindric boxes are scattered over the ground and on the powdery wood racks that line the room. Several are open, with their content - 35mm foil - laying in rough piles on the woodfloors.
One of the film archive's janitors, U Bhone Myint Win, takes a can off the shelves, sweeps off the clogged dirt and opens it by throwing a flag of pickling vapour into the outdoors. That' the demoting room, a safe room in the film archive in Yangon, where movies are dying.
Neglecting for many years under harsh circumstances has not been kind to some of the country's most popular film. Out of the innumerable cartons of messages, 127 color and 12 monochrome rolls kept in the archive, many have died of the feared "vinegar syndrome", a kind of decomposition that affects movies made on aceto carriers, which is what most movies were made before 1980.
"Mick Newnham, former chairman of the Southeast Asia-Pacific Audio Visual Archive Association, said: "The big issue of movie preservation for a southern Asian area like Myanmar is the demoting of the acetalate movie-based world. As soon as the disorder becomes established, its spreading is reversible and there is a rush against the clock to digitize the movie before it is irreversibly destroyed.
In recent years, archives have made joint effort to rescue the old movies, but the procedure is expensive and time-consuming. Movie aficionados say that without goverment backing, conservation effort will be neglected and these invaluable window into the past will be squandered. Maung Okkar, who opened in 1981, visited the vault of the Filmarchiv for the first in 2014.
He was there at that in order to cast roles from movies of his dad Maung Wunna and his grandpa U Thardu - both renowned filmmakers. "Back then it was freezing outside, but the vaulted ceiling is 25 degrees centigrade at 70 outdoors. These were poor terms for storing films," he said.
At the beginning of the year, together with six other directors, he started the Save Myanmar Movie initiative, which is aimed at raising consciousness for the audiovisual conservation of movies and footage such as billboards, screenplays, records and photography. Saving Myanmar Movie (SMF) successfully commissioned the Information Secretary, who supervises the archive, to modernize the climate control in the storerooms in May.
During a recent Myanmar Time visit to the archive, the temperature in the strongroom fluctuated at 11°C and relative air humidities between 40 and 50°C, almost three as high as the 4°C limit suggested. Winding up foils, exchanging old foil boxes and carrying out periodic hardness testing on foil boxes are easy and cost-effective ways to prolong the service lives of old foils, says Maung Okkar.
The SMF had been hoping to start preserving the archive's 12 monochrome movies, which date back to 1934, and in May SMF asked the Department for approval to open the movie boxes to assess their state. Might there soon be nothing more of the Myanmar film's gold age?
"To be able to inform the Department and help them find ways to maintain and conserv them, we need to review the state of the rolls of films from the Filmarchiv. Myanmar's first movie - a brief feature about the burial of U Tun Shein under the direction of U Ohn Maung - was published in 1920.
In the same year Myanmar's first fiction movie, Myittar Hnint Thuya (Love and Liquor) was released. In the following years Myanmar's movie business gained in importance in the region. From the 1950' to the 1970', regarded as the highlights of Burma's cinema, more than 70 movies were produced each year by Burma's top directors.
Now, the remains of the Myanmar film's gold age are largely invisible, limited to one or two repetitions on the state MRTV, but above all to the rusted tin containing sterling silver that is kept in the archives' arches, where it is gradually turning to powder. The Yangon School and the Goethe-Institut renovated the 70s classics Chay Pha Wa Daw Nu Nu (Tender Are the Feet) in 2013 under the direction of Maung Okkar's dad Maung Wanna as part of a collaborative effort to restorate the archives' movies.
As part of the Myanmar Film Heritage Project, Cinema, a non-profit organization in France, has committed itself to restoring a selection of Myanmar film. Launched in 2016, it has already revived two classics: The Mya Ga Naing (Emerald Jungle, 1934), staged by Maung Tin Maung and Pyo Chit Lin (My Darfur, 1950), under the direction of Tin Myint, who were shown to the crowd as part of the film!
The International Movie Heritage Festival in Yangon at the beginning of the monthly. "There' s only one movie library in our section, so we can only take care of the movies. An application from the archives for $300 for the purchase of a filmscanner necessary to convert negative images into digitized movies was recently denied by the government agency, said U Bhone Myint Win, the janitor.
In order to provide the film archive with what it needs, the department should make more money available. Those movies are the treasure of our country," he said.