The Irrawaddy

Exhibition Hopes to Teach Young Generation About Myanmar’s Golden Age of Film

“The Art and Influence of Myanmar’s Film Heritage”, an exhibition being held as part of the “Shwe Khit” arts event, will hold special screenings of the classic Myanmar film Yadanarbon from 1953 as part of a program designed to educate Myanmar’s young generation about the country’s golden age of cinema and inspire them to create their own cultural legacy.

The exhibition, which opened for a three-week-long run on March 24 at the historic Secretariat building in downtown Yangon, was curated via a collaborative effort between the Pyinsa Rasa arts collective and Save Myanmar Film.

Visitors inspect the exhibition on the opening evening at the Secretariat in Yangon.(Photos: Htet Wai)

The exhibition has been installed in three different rooms: the first room looks like an information lobby and will showcase classic Myanmar furniture mixed with a modern look, with Save Myanmar Film’s booth displaying damaged classic films in a small mirror cupboard.

The second room will house a temporary small cinema. Two film posters hang on either side of the entrance with one sporting a ‘Now Showing’ banner. The last room will display old film equipment, vinyl records, and film and painting posters. It also features a music booth that will play songs from the 1950s to 1980s.

A foreigner looks at a display.(Photos: Htet Wai)

The exhibition will present three different movie weeks, starting with a screening of Yadanarbon, directed by U Tin Maung and produced by the historic film company A1.

Yadanarbon is a classic, old Academy Award-winning film from 1953,” explained U Thein Htut, the current director of A1 Film Company. “I’m so proud of my grandpa and so happy to be part of this event.”

He said some scenes were directed in a studio setting, which is rare today. “So, the young generation will be able to see the Myanmar film standards from around that era,” he said.

Some younger visitors listen to songs from past eras at the music booths.(Photos: Htet Wai)

“I’m really honored to be part of the organizing team of this event; we can see their potential, good intentions and creativity. They collected all the equipment piece by piece from different suppliers and put it on display in modern settings, so we can learn about the history of Myanmar film with a new, modern sensibility at the same time,” he added.

A1 Film Company contributed old film cameras, film posters and film advertisements to be displayed at the event while ‘Save Myanmar Film’ provided a copy of Yadanarbon.

The modern Myanmar film industry is often criticized by local movie-goers for copying famous films from abroad and repeatedly focusing on the same topics and plot lines, so that the audience can predict the end of film after watching just a few minutes.

A guest looks at a collage of posters.(Photos: Htet Wai)

“Audiences can freely criticize and that’s their right but every movement has history and it can’t be destroyed and also historic landmarks like the Secretariat building can’t be removed, so, I hope the younger generation can upgrade their creativity using film history as a base,” U Thein Htut said.

He said that everything can be done very quickly in the modern digital era, in contrast to previous ages when making a film required the use of a lot of people and equipment.

“In the old days, each crew member was very focused on making the film and couldn’t afford to make even a small mistake because films were expensive to produce and a mistake would require the whole scene be directed from the beginning again. There were many steps as well. So, every crewmember needed to focus on every detail. That’s the big difference point from today’s digital film industry,” U Thein Htut said.

A young woman poses for a picture in front of movie posters.(Photos: Htet Wai)

“So, I would like to request all young people, please be more creative and put more effort into their films and please study film history first. Hopefully they can learn from the history of the Myanmar film industry through this event,” he said.

Ko Okkar, founder of Save Myanmar Film, said his team’s purpose was to preserve good, old Myanmar films. “So, we have a couple of old films (in our archive) including Yadanarbon. Pyinsa Rasa’s founders are friends and recently we had been talking about holding an exhibition like this and now it has happened.”

The organizers expressed the hope that people could learn from the presentation of old Myanmar films, and that filmmakers would be able to get some inspiration after watching the films, he added.

A foreign man looks closely at an old film camera.(Photos: Htet Wai)

Ko Thaiddhi, co-founder of Pyinsa Rasa and the Wathann Film Festival, echoed Ko Okkar’s words, adding, “We would love to show Myanmar’s film heritage to the young generation. We hope that they can get a true taste of the golden age of Myanmar film through this event and discover the identity of Myanmar movie-making.”

The exhibition will screen three selected films from different Myanmar film eras —Yadanarbon, Tender are the Feet (1973) and Thingyan Moe (1985). Three related musical performances will be staged before the start of each film including music from a Myanmar traditional orchestra as well as popular music.

At the opening of the exhibition, Gitameit music group performed the theme song from Yadanardon before the film played. The film will screen daily at 2pm from March 25 to 31.

The second week starting on April 1 will feature Tender are the Feet.

Ko Thaiddhi said he hopes the exhibit will allow audiences to share in the joy and creativity of previous generations of artists, and that a new generation can look back at their predecessors for inspiration in order to forge a cultural identity of their own.

The Secretariat will charge an entrance fee of 2000 kyat for locals and 10,000 kyat for foreigners to see the exhibit.