The Irrawaddy

Wathann Film Festival Features Local Talent

Wathann Film Festival’s official 2017 poster.

YANGON — Myanmar’s pioneering Wathann Film Festival, organized by local independent filmmakers, returns to Yangon’s last standing colonial-era Waziya Cinema from Wednesday through Monday for the event’s seventh edition.

Founded in 2011 with the mission of improving the standard of local cinema and creating a platform for Myanmar’s young generation of independent filmmakers, the annual Wathann Film Festival (WFF) will showcase 78 films, including 29 from local directors in the competition section, 23 from other Southeast Asian countries, five international feature-length documentaries and other shorts.

Festival director Ma Thu Thu Shein said the WFF has collaborated with curators from regional film festivals to showcase films from six Southeast Asian countries—the S-Express Program—to inspire local filmmakers.

“From these Southeast Asian films, they will know what is happening in the regional independent cinema scene,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Portraying a toddler acting as the “king of the set” on its official poster this year, Ma Thu Thu Shein said it was a metaphor for “new filmmakers are born here,” adding that most works in the lineup were created by young directors from Myanmar and the region.

Recognizing all of the significant improvements in the last seven years, Thaid Dhi, co-founder and program director of Wathann, said the festival would also address the obstacles that still hinder the artistic freedom of filmmakers, referring to the censorship process that the lineup had to undergo according to the country’s 1996 Motion Picture Law.

While the decades-long practice of literary censorship was abolished in 2012, he said, the film and video censorship board remains a challenge for local filmmakers.

The law urgently needs to be fixed in accordance with democratic norms for the sake of cinematic freedom, he stressed.

The festival will also include other artistic programs this year such as Beyond Narrative, a collection of works by audiovisual artists and Another Landscape, a collection of films by the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum.

A feature-length documentary In Exile (Pyi Pye in Myanmar), directed by Myanmar filmmaker Tin Win Naing, and a collaboration of Myanmar and Germany production companies, will have its home premiere on Friday evening. The film documents the plight of Myanmar migrant workers who fled civil war and political persecution to Thailand. It has shown at several international film festivals including Busan and Toronto last year.

The festival will also screen the Singapore-produced Yellow Bird, a debut feature film by director K. Rajagopal, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics Week last year, on Saturday. The film’s cinematographer Michael Zaw—a Myanmar-born filmmaker based in Singapore—will host a master class for local filmmakers after the Saturday screening.

Myanmar Deitta art gallery will host an extended screening for competition films from Thursday through Sunday. Awards to be presented at the festival are Best Short Film, Best Documentary and New Vision Award, according to festival organizers.