Myanmar Film Revival
“Today we can make everything from action movies, to comedy and thriller,” reports Soe Moe, a veteran of filmmaking in his seventies. He is also the patron of the Myanmar Motion Picture Studio no less, which makes him worth listening to. He goes on to explain how there is now a revival happening for the once celebrated Myanmar Film industry following years of suffocating censorship and a crippling funding shortage.
In the last two years the change in political leadership is seeing sweeping reforms and a whole new level of freedom for media and cultural output. The film industry is benefiting from this new opportunity and is quick to push the boundaries at the first chance. It also recognises the future lies with the youth. More risqué films are already in production containing levels of sex and violence that would have been unheard of only two years ago. These are exciting times indeed.
A big budget biopic is being produced by none other than opposition leader Aung San Su Kyi about the life of her revolutionary father. There is also a film underway telling the story of the 1988 student uprising. It would seem the change is here for good and welcomed not only in Myanmar but their near neighbours also are seeing similar unravelling of former obstacles. The move by some filmmakers to make films including controversial content and immediately take them abroad for festivals such as Cannes to create much needed publicity, may be soon not necessary.
In Laos New Line Cinema is planning to open a brand new movie complex indicating private sector investment is finally arriving. Here in Burma homemade soap series’ are already being filmed. Although it won’t be to everyone’s liking it is still a notable testimony to the resilience of the Burmese and a new found confidence in the future.
The recent problem with the film industry in Myanmar has been twofold. “This not only has the effect of normalizing the idea that politics should be kept out of cinema”, argues Burmese film festival curator, Min Htin, “It also stifles creativity” he continues.
“The reason Myanmar’s film industry has declined is not because of the censor board,” he worries. “It’s because filmmakers are not interested in making films that would attract international recognition. They are only interested in making money.”
For the meantime Mr. Min Htin feels popular dramas like the new soaps being made in Yangon right now may reflect a greater sense of freedom seen by filmmakers to cover everyday issues that in the past were taboo, but they do very little to add to the political landscape.
He recently put on Myanmar’s first human rights festival back in June, with little resistance from government officials and says he hopes it helps to inspire a new generation of filmmakers based in Myanmar to truly take advantage of these increased media freedoms.
“The censors didn’t cut a frame of any of the films we screened,” he says. “I hope some of the young guys who came to see the human rights films will be inspired to go away and make their own projects that really reflect what’s going on in this country.”