Student Film Festival Leaves Myanmar Audiences Wowed

By Lwin Mar Htun 23 August 2019

Now in its second year, the University Students Film Festival, which was organized by a group of students as a showcase for their peers who are interested in filmmaking and who have a passion and talent for creating new art, has become a platform for Myanmar’s young directors.

The second edition of the festival was held on Aug. 21. Ten short films were screened at the Art Hall of the University of Yangon in a competition that left the audience amazed at the new talent and creative ideas on display.

“It all started as a film club. My friend and I had a shared hobby of watching movies. We loved to see films and got interesting in filmmaking. We formed the Dagon University Filmmaking Club and made a short film together,” said Lynn Teza, a final year law student at Dagon University and co-founder of its filmmaking club.

He added, “We didn’t have a place to show our film. So we opened a Facebook page and uploaded it there. We thought, there must be young students like us who want to make films, and who want to show their art to the public—but where is that place?”

One of the winning filmmakers accepts an award from a festival team member. / University Students Film Festival

Lynn Teza thought about entering the Wathann Film Festival, “but we were too young to compete with the experienced, adult participants there; we didn’t have the experience or the quality equipment. Maybe Wathann would have accepted us, but I didn’t dare to submit our film.”

Eventually, the film club teamed up with its counterpart at Yangon University, and together they started organizing Yangon’s first University Students Film Festival, which was held last year.

“It wasn’t easy. All we knew was we wanted to launch a festival, but we had no idea how to do it. We didn’t have any connections. We split up into teams. Some worked on finding sponsors, and others set about recruiting students to participate in the festival. And we got a lot of help from experienced and award-winning local filmmakers,” Lynn Teza explained.

The first edition of the festival drew about 13 submissions, with 10 finalists selected to be screened on the day of the festival in July 2018.

“The quality of the films was really quite poor. The students didn’t have a lot of money and had to make the best of their small budgets—it was a first step for all of us,” Lynn Teza recalled.

“This year we received about 15 films and selected the top 10. The films’ concepts, quality and storytelling showed a lot of improvement and were totally different from last year. I’m really happy about that.”

Audience members are registered at the entrance to the festival. / University Students Film Festival

This year, three renowned filmmakers—Wathann Film Festival director Ma Thu Thu Shein and award-winning filmmakers Ko Nagyi and Ma Moe Myat May Zarchi—served as the judges, choosing the five award winners.

“Showers at 1 a.m.” by Lin Htet Aung won the Best Film award. The film is about a depressed young man who takes his own life. The director, who also played the main role, had a unique take on subject matter that many would consider very bleak.

“When we talk about death, people have dark thoughts. Those scenes have to be dramatic. People can die in the daylight and painlessly. If I didn’t say that [the character] had died in the film, you wouldn’t know if he was dead or asleep. I want to leave those questions lingering in the audience’s minds after watching the film,” said Lin Htet Aung, who pocketed 500,000 kyats (about US$330) for taking first prize.

“The First Phile” by Sxar Kiss, “Leaving” by Si Thu Kyaw, “Value” by Thu Ra Swe and “Rain Story” by Henry won the Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Script and Best Editing awards, respectively.

The films covered a diverse array of genres, styles and themes, including love stories and horror as well as works of sheer imagination and those offering life lessons. They varied in length from three to 15 minutes.

Though the festival was small, the students showed great professionalism in organizing it, attracting sponsorship from major companies including Mingalar Cinemas Group and Myanmar National Airways.

Festival-goers put questions to a filmmaker. / University Students Film Festival

Among the audience were a number of popular local young actors, photographers and directors, who attended the festival to encourage Myanmar’s talented future filmmakers.

“I saw a lot of great storytelling and creative concepts in the competing films. Some of the films were really amazing. I’m glad I attended this event; this festival is a really good opportunity for all students who want to make films,” said young director Htoo Paing Zaw Oo, who is well known for his horror and thriller flicks “Nya” (Night) and “Thu Sein Eain” (Stranger’s House).

About a thousand students and others showed up at the film festival and the filmmakers drew huge applause from the audience.

“Art house films are not really popular among Burmese audiences, but I’m so interested in them. So I will keep making my own films and organizing this festival with my friend. We’ll try to make it even better in the coming year,” Lynn Teza said.