Rights-Themed Film Festival Gets Bumper Line-Up, With One Movie Banned

By The Irrawaddy 7 June 2017

RANGOON — The line-up for an upcoming festival showcasing more than 60 local and international films related to human rights was completed today, with one film failing to gain screening approval from the government’s film classification board.

“Sittwe,” an 18-minute documentary about young people affected by the conflicts in troubled Arakan State was “culturally and religiously inappropriate and should not be shown,” according to the Films and Video Censorship Board in a letter to the event’s organizers.

The Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival is due to start on Wednesday June 14 and to run for six days at Rangoon’s Waziya Cinema and Junction City.

Expressing disappointment over the board’s decision, “Sittwe” director Jeanne Hallacy said, “Documentary films open public discourse on human rights issues, particularly on highly sensitive subjects that may not be addressed in depth in traditional media.”

Hallacy’s previous films include a documentary on human rights activist U Aung Myo Min, which was shown at the 2015 edition of the festival.

The US filmmaker added, “Banning films on human rights subjects prevents dialogue which perpetuates conflict, while sharing human rights stories contributes to considering solutions.”

The human rights film festival was started in 2013 by founder U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and others with the goal to present a wide range of films dealing with broad themes that had previously been suppressed in Burma for decades.

No films were banned during the first three years of the annual event. In 2016, soon after the inauguration of the new National League for Democracy-led government, the planned festival opener for that year was controversially pulled at the last minute.

“Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess” is a love story set against a backdrop of political events in Shan State and Burma in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The Films and Video Censorship Board, then under a different name, said the film could pose a threat to “ethnic unity.” It was also held by the board to potentially harm “the image of the military.”

The board is made up of some 15 representatives, mainly from the Ministry of Information’s Myanmar Motion Picture Development Department, along with members of other groups such as the Myanmar Motion Picture Organization, the Myanmar Music Association and the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture. The home affairs ministry is also represented.

This year’s festival is set to open with “Burma Storybook,” a film about the ideas of former political prisoner and poet U Maung Aung Pwint by Dutch directors Peter Lom and Carinne Van Egeraat.

A total of 66 films are due to be shown, U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi said.

The line-up includes 52 films on a wide variety of subjects by local directors, including notable names such Shin Daewe, M. Noe, Moore Thit Sett Htoon, Bo Thet Htun Soe, San Htike and Yamin Oo.

An 85-minute omnibus movie by 14 different local directors, and an hour-long film in the Chin language are also in the line-up. The festival program includes 14 international productions, some relating to Burmese themes.