The Documentarian and the Democracy Icon

By Samantha Michaels 21 August 2013

YANGON — She’s an international darling, but Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has only a few close confidantes. Somehow, however, filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi has convinced the dissident turned lawmaker to open up for a documentary, making him the first native Myanmar director to ever portray her life on camera. The 51-year-old filmmaker from Magway Region told The Irrawaddy reporter Samantha Michaels about the challenges and surprises of working with the Lady, and about organizing the country’s first human rights film festival in her honor.

Question: How did you get the chance to make a documentary about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

Answer: It’s a long story. After the Lady was released [from house arrest in 2010] on Nov. 13, I had a chance to meet her on Dec. 29 at her office. I brought a copy of my documentary “The Floating Tomatoes” and gave it to her, and I told her I wanted to make a documentary about her. She said she would watch my documentary and then consider it. In June 2011 I was invited to a poetry festival in Colombia, as I was known to be composing poems in Burma [Myanmar]. I asked the Lady to give me a poem to recite there, along with my own poems. When I came back I had a chance to meet her and I asked her again about the documentary. At that time she said, “OK, you can proceed.”

Q: Have you seen French director Luc Besson’s film “The Lady”? What did you think of it?

A: Yes, I have. As a feature film based on our national leader, I felt that the director didn’t do proper research. He made a lot of historical inaccuracies.

Q: For your own documentary, what’s been the biggest challenge in working with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

A: I asked for 10 interviews, each one hour in length. So far I’ve only had two interviews, so I’m still waiting for another eight. That’s a challenge. But I understand. She’s very busy

Q: Has she surprised you in any way?

A: You know, actually, she always tries to cover up her heart, her real heart. But my documentary takes a look at her heart. Everyone knows about her political activities, so I didn’t want to make that kind of documentary about her. Before the first interview, she told me, “OK, if I don’t want to answer, I will not answer.”

Q: Has she answered most of your questions?

A: So far, she hasn’t declined to answer any of my questions.

Q: What was the toughest part about putting together the “Human Rights Human Dignity” international film festival in June?

A: Before the event, we had to get permission from the authorities.

Q: How long did that take?

A: Not very long—it was very easy. I mean, before I submitted everything to them, before I asked for permission, I was quite worried.

Q: How has film censorship affected your work in Myanmar?

A: We had had to submit all 56 films to the censorship board [for the film festival]. They watched all 56 films in two or three days. They didn’t reject any.

Q: You also helped organize another film festival last year, “The Art of Freedom” festival. For that event, you didn’t submit any films to the censors. Why did you change this year?

A: These two festivals were based on different ideas, so we had different strategies. The festival in 2012 was organized because there were still political prisoners in prison. It was about freedom, so we didn’t submit the films to the censorship board—we screened what we wanted. But for this film festival, the “Human Rights Human Dignity” film festival, I wanted to get permission because it was not intended to be a one-time event. I want to organize this festival every year, so I needed permission.

Q: Are you working on any other projects?

A: I don’t have other projects in the works, but I have an idea to make a short film about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has 30 articles, and how each of those apply to the Burmese people.

This Q&A first appeared in the August 2013 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.