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Myanmar's classic films are being restored for a second showing

Restoring a 1934 black-and-white movie known for its high-octane crowd stunt, such as a hot-air baloon getaway and a teak thief shooting in the jungles, has spurred Myanmar's effort to save its decayed heirloom. Myanmar's first surviving movie, "Mya Ga Naing" (The Emerald Jungle), and its ascent to fame internationally is perhaps as unlikely as the victory of its leading character over Python and Bandit with his naked hand.

In 1962, the once thriving South East Asia movie industry suffered a severe blow with the advent of a army jungle that imposed strict restrictions and eviscerated the industry during a 50-year rule. When Myanmar's imaginative atmosphere atrophied, relentless temperatures, deluge-like rainfall and suffocating moisture took their toll from sensitive rolls of films in a land that had neither the necessary ressources nor the know-how to preserve them well.

Several rolls were reused to help reduce costs, and now only a few tens of the country's early monochrome images are left. "The Mya Ga Naing", initially a movie with a silence to which was later added songs and print titles, is the oldest one found so far. Years of languishing in the State Archive before for a year in Italy experts carefully retouched the movie picture by picture and in 2016 showed the renovated one.

Specialists spend several hundred years in the L'Immagine Ritrovata (The rediscovered image) in Bologna to remove every small scratches and stains from the movie and to digitize them by various means, among them some films found in Berlin archive, proof of how far the real movie traveled. "Every so often, as the restoring work went on, it was like a new day for the film," said Severine Wemaere, co-founder of the company EMORY!

" He has also performed at numerous Singapore, Thailand and Swiss musical events and enjoyed frequent performances at home in Myanmar. This year, the movie received further recognition internationally after UNESCO had granted it a place on the Asia-Pacific Listing of the "documentary legacy of influence", which benefited not only the movie but also Myanmar's movie traditions.

It was the first movie in the state. It was shown in 1920. In the 1950s, the movie business was in its prime when Myanmar directors released a large number of films each year. Whilst almost all early films have been forgotten, the success of the resurrection of "Mya Ga Naing" is driving a move to save what is left.

Next movie to be renovated in 2017 was Pyo Chit Lin (My Darling), a 1950 drama that was made on such a small budgeted scale that Tin Myint had to pick between the two. The latter was his choice, making it the oldest preserved colour documentary in the land. The contemporary Myanmar based movie maker Maung Okkar plays a leading part in the efforts to save his country's classic films.

Only a few could be better placed, because the 31-year-old has famous film-makers in his veins with his two sires. Maung Okkar was horrified to discover in 2012 that some of his family's originals were irreparably destroyed, while others in his storage room were asleep. "He remembers that some movies could not be renovated and for me it was as if I had missed one of my mothers.

" Following an education in conservation and archival technology in Italy, he founded "Save Myanmar Film" in 2017 with a group of cineastes. The motto is "Every Second Counts" and they want to find and keep as many old roles and other movie utensils as possible, such as cinematographs, viewers and movie-poster.

About two thousand visitors saw an exposition and demonstrations of the group in May this year in Yangon's representative former parliament house, and a third movie is planned to be restored. The actress Grace Swe Zin Htaik, 65, appeared in many of Myanmar's greatest movies in the 70's and 80's and faces the challenges of organizing the country's centenary.

"The folks in this land have no clue how to appreciate the old films," she said melancholy as she chased her fingers along the dilapidated racks that harbor the remains of the country's film heritages. "We can see our story, our civilization, our identity and our values."

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