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Myanmar's once buoyant movie business gets ready for the second act | Post Magazine
David Eimer believes that a recent flood of dreadless Myanmar documentaries has given rise to hope of a revival in the country's dying movie industry." Myanmar Motion Picture Museum, like many other Yangon edifices, has experienced better times." Roaming stray cat parrots around the outside of the run-down building, which goes back to the early twentieth and early twentieth centuries when Myanmar was a UK colony."
Thus, the few normally shown objects - old camera and light, old movie billboards - were brought into a storage room and the whole structure remained empty. Myanmar's museum's demise reflects that of the Myanmar moviemakers. Today, Myanmar, a nation of nearly 54 million inhabitants, has fewer than 50 working theaters, and most of the movies made here are made within a few short hours on shooting budget before being directly published on DVDs.
However, if Myanmar's once proud film business is a veil of its own, the nation is now a leader in the production of feature film. The number of commercials made here has exploded in the last seven years. Now it is the documentarians who are shifting the limits of free speech in a land that until recently was governed by a regime that detained its enemies, prohibited protest and strictly monitored all forms of medium.
Filmfestivals that show these documentary movies are also thriving. Now the Wathann Festival takes place every year in September and there are special shows showing movies on cell phone, documentations and movies with lesbians and gays. The yearly &Proud LGBT Filmfestival will start on January 28th in Yangon.
"Documentary films are much nearer to Myanmar's reality than majorstream films," says Thaiddhi over a cup of tea in one of the many Yangon city centre retail centres. "There is still a lot of censorship on majorstream films: they must not show impoverishment. However, we want to show the everyday world and we can do that in documentary films, so they are the best way to think about our world.
" He made his first film in 2005, which made him a vet by locals standard. In addition to the 32-year-old, more and more young film makers are making feature films about everything from the peripheral location of the handicapped in Myanmar, the effects of extraction on the environment, the effects of farming on the peasants, the life of the common folk who do daily work, to the country's penchant for soccer and the English Premier League.
Much of these movies will be shown for the first time at the Wathann Film Festival, which Thaiddhi established together with his woman and his colleague Thu Thu Shein in 2011. "Wathann means "rainy season" in Burmese and it always rains too much in September to make movies, so we thought we'd show movies instead," says Thu Thu Shein with a big grin.
This was bad meteorological conditions, of a truly extrem diversity, which set the Myanmar documentation campaign in motion. The cyclone Nargis crashed into the Irrawaddy River valley, just north of Yangon, in May 2008, and sent massive floods over the delta's ricepad. Approximately 140,000 persons were killed and about 1.
Five million have been driven out by the devastating catastrophe in Myanmar's entirety. At the time, the regime that ruled the nation declined to take down world assistance for months after the hurricane and basically abandoned those affected by Nargis. One group of Yangon Film School alumni chose to chronicle their despair.
This was an illegality and it was a certain amount of risky for her to do the interviews," says Lindsey Merrison, the Anglo-Burmese director who started the academy in 2005. Your resulting movie, Nargis: This was also the first feature-length Myanmar based full-length movie ever made. "They really did help us. "No wonder the Myanmar -ruled Myanmar at the time - were unaffected by the movie and forbade it.
Notwithstanding the fact that the moviemakers hid their identity using fake titles in the end-buttons, the regime came after them. "and one went into bankruptcy in Thailand. "Nargis has been shown at 20 major international movie and television screenings and won prizes at some of them, while DVDs were distributed throughout Myanmar and served as a strong source of inspiration for many aspiring documentaries.
"This movie was very important. It had a quantifiable effect on humans after it was shown in Myanmar," says Merrison. The Yangon Movie School, which is still the only school in the state, has also gained visibility. It was important for Myanmar's pioneering documentarists to avoid the public authorities' notice.
"We couldn't make my first movie on the streets unless it was in a place we knew with someone we knew," Thaiddhi says. We told them that we were just practicing how to use the camerawork and not making a movie. This was the atmosphere of anxiety that Yangon Movie School was founded as an informal organization.
You were very jittery because folks were shooting reality. "Myanmar's movie business was long dead when Merrison founded the academy as an NGO with the support of the European Union and the Geman authorities. By 1962, the army had taken over with a military coup d'etat, and over the next four centuries the moviemakers were censored more and more vigilantly, while the country's independence from the outside world meant that they were lacking both the external influence and the necessary gear for cinematography.
When Aung San Suu Kyi appeared as head of Myanmar's pro-democracy group in 1988, the trade was almost over. But before the take-over by the Burmese government, the country was thriving from the minute the first picture was shown at a Yangon theater in 1908.
On the horizon of the near distant past, the first local movie was a 1919 movie about the burial of an early fighter for warriorship. Myanmar's first movie appeared a year later. Many more films followed, some of which were censured by the British for open criticism of British-colonialism.
At that time there were almost 250 theaters in the county and Burma's movies were so loved in India that Bollywood celebrities came to Yangon to play in them. Whilst many movies are still being shot in Myanmar, only a few inspire the Yangon Film School film school.
"I wanted to make my own films when I came here because I never liked any of the films I saw in Burma," says Kyaw Ko Ko Ko Ko, one of the school's teachers. That' s why I think that's why those who really like Myanmar make documentary films. "Many of the pupils are wives or members of some of Myanmar's 134 minority communities, a conscious politics of schooling.
Many are on a quest to capture their fast-moving land. "Movie is a really strong way of getting topics across to a large audience," says Shunn Lei, a 24-year-old Yangon girl in her first year at college. "You can use commercials to blend pictures with those who tell their own story. Only a few of the undergraduates have the same anxiety about the agencies that occupied the documentarians in front of them.
"We have more liberty in Yangon now," says Nway Tsar Che Soe, a young Maubin film-maker in the Irrawaddy Delta. "and make movies. However, in other areas of the world, there is still fear. In 2015, when we were touring our movies around the countryside, they were afraid to come to the shows because they thought they might get into difficulties.
" As Myanmar has few movie theaters remaining, it is perhaps the greatest barrier to new filmmakers. "Many of them are shown at movie fairs, or you see them on DVD," says Shunn Lei. "We would like to see our movies on TV. "At present, only the television station in Myanmar, the Democratic Voice of Burma, which broadcasts its programs from Norway via satellites, will show impartial movies, whether they' re making feature length movies or both.
This is a reflection of how the army and its civil coalition partners - the so-called Chrony Kapitalists or Chronies, the small group of beneficiaries under the regime - are exerting great sway in Myanmar, even though the National Democratic Left has come to rule. The same is true of radios and television and radios are the two most influential channels in the country," says Lamin Oo, a 30-year-old film-maker.
"They think that television is now free because they show the Myanmar side of the film, but they have no unrelated messages and they don't show feature films. "Lamin Oo is a rare Myanmar filmmaker because he didn't go to Yangon Film School. His name was verified by Barack Obama in a keynote address during the last visit of the US presidential family to Myanmar in 2014, and he now has his own manufacturing firm, Tagu Films, in a small Northern Yangon studio.
Featuring documentary films on topics as varied as the effects of the extraction of coal on the countryside and a football-loving fish trader in Yangon, who has his staff carry the Chelsea car. In spite of the changes in Myanmar, says Lamin Oo, there are still issues that are off limits to the filmmaker. "I' d get in a lot of grief if I made a movie that shows how the TV stations belong to their cronies," he says.
"It' simpler to question commoners than to reveal the numbers of the institution. Further taboo subjects are the rise of extremist buddhistic Nationalism after the opening of Myanmar in 2011 and the fate of Rohingya, a prosecuted Islamic ethnical minorities in the western part of the nation, which became the targets of fatal aggression in 2012.
Together with most other film directors, Lamin Oo makes an earnings by making informational videos for the many UN organizations and NGOs active in Myanmar. Only a few can live on their own documents, but more and more documentarians are trying to get into the film.
There are hopes that Myanmar's film industries will be revived and can resume the influence of documentary films that come from the state. "We' re going to make films, but with personalities and tales built on actual humans and actual lives. Thaiddhi says, "We don't want to make films that are unrelated to everyday realities.
When he and the other young Yangon film makers can do that, the Myanmar Motion Picture Museum may have to move to larger, healthier facilities in a few years.