Burmese Jade Mining Film Scoops Awards at Rangoon Festival

By San Yamin Aung 20 June 2016

RANGOON — A documentary about the deadly jade mining industry in Hpakant, Kachin State—where landslides have killed scores of small-scale miners over the last year—won two out of ten awards at the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival held last week in Rangoon.

The 30-minute film, “Vein,” by Ko Jet, Htet Aung San and Phyo Zayar Kyaw, won the Aung San Suu Kyi Award (National) and the Hantharwady U Win Tin award at the ceremony held on June 19 to coincide with the birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi, to whom the festival is dedicated.

Filmmaker Ko Jet told The Irrawaddy that “Vein” highlighted the human tragedy behind the jade industry in Hpakant: the death of small-scale miners, the families deprived of a father and a source of income, and the harm wrought on the environment in the absence of safeguards.

“[Mining] should not be done to excess. The unruly pursuit of money is damaging the environment,” Ko Jet said.

This year, prizes were awarded to eight Burmese and two foreign documentaries. Included were two new prizes, the VOA Award, referring to the US public broadcaster Voice of America, and the Gender Equality Award.

The VOA Award went to the “Lovely Bone” by director Nwaye Zar Che Soe, about the struggles faced by a disabled breadwinner in a rural area of Burma.

Four documentaries competed for the “Gender Equality Award,” which was won by “A Woman with a Gun” by Mary and Yu Par Mo Mo. It tells a story of an ethnic Rawang woman from Putao in Kachin State who has a talent for shooting firearms.

“I wanted to show that although a woman can perform just as well as a man, she is given lower positions than men because she is a woman. She is not valued,” Mary said.

“I was really happy to receive awards for my two first documentaries, and also for ‘A Woman with a Gun,’” Mary added.

Staged for the fourth year running, the festival featured free screenings of 42 Burmese and 25 foreign documentaries between June 14-19 across three Rangoon cinemas: Naypyitaw, Junction Square and Junction Mawtin.

“Twilight Over Burma,” a film about the marriage of an Austrian women to the last Shan prince of Hsipaw—before he was arrested during Ne Win’s 1962 coup and never seen again—was scheduled for the opening night. However, Burma’s film censorship board refused permission for the film to be shown during the festival, because it “could damage the ethnic unity of the state.”

On the festival’s Facebook page, the organizers apologized for being unable to screen the film: “Our mission is ‘A Society of Dignity.’ But it is failed [sic].”