Annual Indie Film Festival Raises Competition Standards but Struggles Remain with Censorship

By Lwin Mar Htun 6 September 2018

YANGON—Myanmar’s first independent competitive film festival, Wathann Film Festival (WFF), is in its eighth year and changing up its style adding a panel discussion with lauded international filmmakers and brand new screening sections as part of this year’s exciting line-up of events.

The ongoing film festival is taking place at two top venues in Yangon—Waziya Cinema and Goethe-Institut— and it will run from September 5 to 10.

“In recent years, Wathann has always been held at the same place that is Waziya Cinema. Luckily, we got another venue to screen the films and we are really thankful to Goethe Institut,” said Ko Thaid Dhi, a filmmaker and co-founder of the festival.

Wathann Film Festival volunteers busy with festival goers at the entrance counter in Waziya Cinema.(Photo: Htet Wei/ The Irrawaddy)

WFF is the very first independent competitive film festival in Yangon and it was first launched in September 2011 by Ko Thaid Dhi and another local filmmaker Ma Thu Thu Shein. It is a film platform for independent local and international filmmakers.

“This year we got a total of 57 local short and documentary film entries for the competition—an increased number from previous years,” said Ko Thaid Dhi.

Last year, there were around 45 local film entries in the competition section and they chose 29 of them for the final competition stage.

“This year we selected only 11 competition films to screen at the film festival and yes, it less than last year. The festival team wants to focus on quality and to make it more competitive and challenging for the filmmakers,” Ko Thaid Dhi added.

All films to be screened for the festival have to be submitted to the national censorship board which is comprised of members of the Ministry of Information and the Myanmar Motion Picture Organization (MMPO), in order to get approval to be screened.

“We always have to submit the films and the board members usually ask for some scenes of movies to be cut out but no director ever wants to cut out scenes from their film,” said Ko Thaid Dhi.

The opening ceremony of the 8th Wathann Film Festival which was held on Wednesday at Waziya Cinema. (Photo: Htet Wei/ The Irrawaddy)

The WFF team and directors always have to negotiate with the censorship board members. Usually the final result is that they don’t need to cut off the full scene but rather blur or cover subjects which they don’t want to be shown to audiences.

“One actor’s dialogue included the word ‘sout’ (a Myanmar swear word) so we had to cover that sound. In another case, a girl in the film called ‘Whispers of Silence’ is seen drinking wine with a boy and the board members said girls shouldn’t drink wine so we had to cover the wine glasses,” said Ko Thaid Dhi explaining some struggles of this year’s festival.

Even though the filmmakers didn’t want to cover the props, they don’t have a choice and it’s much better than cutting out a whole scene from the film, added Ko Thaid Dhi.

Another highlight of this year’s festival program is ‘S-Express’, an annual collaboration of short film programmers from nine countries including Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Laos. In this program, the programmers will bring selected short films from their country to screen at the film festival.

Audience members at the opening ceremony of the 8th Wathann Film Festival.(Photo: Htet Wei/ The Irrawaddy)

A new program feature called ‘Reflection of Society’ is a special screening of four documentary films by woman filmmakers from Myanmar who aim to reflect today’s social and political situations through their documentary films.

“Actually, we didn’t intend to feature only woman’s films in this section. The films we selected are coincidentally all directed by women and they are all really good and tell stories from different filmmakers’ aspects,” Ko Thaid Dhi said.

The festival will screen more than 70 short and documentary films from both local and international filmmakers including the 11 competition films, eight international feature-length films, four local documentaries for the aforementioned ‘Reflection of Society’ and other short films.

The winners will be selected from the 11 competition films on the last day of the festival in the categories of Best Documentary, Best Short film and New Wave Award. Each winner will win one million kyats and a special trophy designed by Traditional Czech Crystal.

The judges for this year’s festival are from Myanmar, Japan and Germany.

The opening ceremony was held on Wednesday at the Waziya Cinema and three short and documentary films were screened including Blood Flowers by Maung Day, The Memory of Water by Mary Stephen and Seasonal Rain by Aung Phyoe.

Ticket fees for film screenings are 500 kyats and you can check the screening timetable at their Facebook page .