Signs of Life: An Emerging Talent Pool

By The Irrawaddy 30 June 2014

This article was first published alongside the cover story in the June 2014 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.

The mainstream movie business may be in the doldrums right now, but history says that there is always a market for good stories that are well told.

It’s likely just a matter of time in Myanmar before ways are found to get quality productions made that match rising audience expectations.

Signs of fresh energy to make films offering substantial fare are already emerging aplenty. So far, perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the most interesting ideas appear to be coming from outside the mainstream.

Just one recent example is Myanmar-born director Midi, who has generated international attention with his 2014 movie “Ice Poison,” about a young farmer in Shan State who becomes involved in drugs.

The film has shown in at least eight festivals internationally since it was made, but will reportedly only be seen in this country on DVD or online, as the director did not have a permit to shoot it.

Taiwan-based Midi plans to follow it up next year with a love story, “The Road to Mandalay,” which will be shot in a border refugee camp and Bangkok.

Another director tackling substantive themes is Aung Ko Latt, who garnered attention last year for his movie “Kayan Beauties,” which also explores vulnerable lives in Myanmar’s ethnic areas.

“Kayan Beauties” won a Special Jury Award at the Asean International Film Festival in Malaysia last year, and is still gaining new audiences; this May, it showed at the Soho International Festival in New York City.

“For 27 years I’ve been trying to show off our Burmese films and movies to the world. Now, that dream has come true. I’ll try my best to produce more Burmese films and movies reflecting the beauty of our country, traditions and cultures,” the director told The Irrawaddy last year.

Documentary-making in particular is experiencing a resurgence in the post-censorship era, boosted in part by events like the Wathann annual film festival in Yangon, which started in 2011.

And documentary-makers too are increasingly reaching audiences abroad as well as at home.

In May, for example, the Yangon Film School announced that U Aung Nwai Htway’s personal, behind-the-scenes story of his famous movie-star parents, “Behind the Screen,” will show at the International Documentary Film Festival in Hanoi this month. The film won Best Asean Documentary at the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival in Salaya, Thailand, in March.

Also in May, a selection of films from last year’s Wathann festival showed in Shanghai, China.

Perhaps, after years of repression, Myanmar’s creative film-makers are just starting to hit their stride again; if so, that happy ending for the country’s long love affair with movies may be within reach.