The Irrawaddy

Land-Grab Documentary Takes Top Burma Prize at Human Rights Film Festival

Lin San Oo, second left, receives the Aung San Suu Kyi Award on behalf of ‘This Land Is Our Land’ director Sai Khon Kham in Rangoon on Thursday. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A 30-minute documentary about land confiscation in Burma won two out of eight awards at the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival held this week in Rangoon.

The Burmese documentary, “This Land Is Our Land” by Sai Kong Kham, won the Aung San Suu Kyi National Film Award and the Vaclav Havel Library Award at the HRHDIFF award ceremony on Thursday evening.

The second annual HRHDIFF honored filmmakers with eight awards for national, Southeast Asian and international documentary films, with the various prizes’ namesakes paying tribute to prominent figures in human rights and pro-democracy movements globally.

“Miners Shot Down,” by the South African director Rehad Desai, offers a look into deadly anti-mining protests in his country in August 2012, and won the Aung San Suu Kyi Award in the International Film category. “The Last Refuge,” which tells the story of Cambodia’s Bunong people, won the Aung San Suu Kyi Award for Asean films.

Other winners included “An Untold Sotry” by Joses Dennis, which took home the Min Ko Naing

Award; the March13 award went to “The Seller,” an animation by Zaw Bo Bo Hein; the Hanthawaddy U Win Tin Award was given to “Enter,” a 15-minute film about the life of a political prisoner by Kaung Sint; and the Peter Wintonick Award was bestowed on “Article 18,” shot by a trio of students of the Yangon Film Institute.

The last award honors the late Canadian filmmaker Peter Wintonick, and was given to the best film in the festival’s student competition. “Article 18”tells the story of political activists who have faced charges and been imprisoned under Article 18 of Burma’s Peaceful Assembly Law over the last two years. The law has frequently come in for criticism in the human rights community and is up for discussion in Burma’s Parliament.

In a speech to close out the festival, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, the director and founder of the event, said public interest and support for the films was “encouragement to keep organizing this International Film Festival.” Festival organizers said the films attracted even more interest than the inaugural event in 2013, which drew some 20,000 people.

Opening on Sunday with the Cambodian documentary “The Missing Picture,” the festival screened 66 out of 67 documentary films at Rangoon’s Waziyar and Junction Square Cineplex from June 15-18. The festival featured 32 Burmese films, nine Southeast Asia films and 26 international films, which were judged by a panel of 19 national and international jurists.

The festival did not play out without controversy, however. One of the five short films shot by Burmese film students, “The Open Sky,” was not screened due to threats aired via social media.

The film depicts the friendship between two women, one a Buddhist and the other Muslim, in central Burma’s Meikhtila, which was wracked by interreligious violence that killed more than 40 people in March 2013.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi told The Irrawaddy earlier this week that the festival’s organizing board and juries cancelled the screening because it appeared to have stoked lingering Buddhist-Muslim tensions, and that organizers were “not holding the film festival to create conflict.”

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi on Thursday insisted that the screening was merely being postponed. “The film, when it shows later, will not be a censored version,” he said.

In the award ceremony’s opening remarks, US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell, his British counterpart Andrew Patrick and Igor Blazevic, the founder of Prague’s One World Film Festival and an international adviser of the HRHDIFF, all made note of the controversy surrounding “The Open Sky.”

“Everybody who values the meaning of this event must oppose the use of threats or intimidation to suppress speech,” Mitchell said.

Patrick said the ability of a vocal minority to suppress opposing viewpoints was not in keeping with democratic values, and Blazevic expressed disappointment at not being able to screen the 20-muinute film because “the script is really good.”

Ko Ko Gyi, a leader of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, encouraged organizers to continue working to instill human rights values among the public. He said the film festival would also need to reach people in Burma’s more remote regions, where human rights abuses are less publicized but no less important. “Because we need art creation, as it is the best tool to shape people’s mindsets,” he said.

Starting next month, the festival will hit the road, with screenings to take place at 13 locations across Burma.

Lin San Oo, one of four crew members behind “This Land is Our Land,” paid tribute to the landholders in Magwe Division and Shan State who had the courage to tell of their hardships.

“I would like to honor those farmers,” he said on Thursday.

The film’s director, Sai Khon Kham, could not be at the awards ceremony, which was attended by about 300 people.