Suu Kyi’s Second Bite at Silver Screen

By Hpyo Wai Tha 23 July 2012

RANGOON—After Luc Besson’s controversial film about democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi last year, a Burmese documentary maker is to become the very first native director to portray the life of the 67-year-old Nobel Laureate.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi told The Irrawaddy that his feature-length documentary on Suu Kyi is now in the early stages of production. “Shooting started on Saturday at her residence,” he said. “We got some interview footage of Mother Suu on that day.”

The bespectacled filmmaker, whose Floating Tomatoes was runner-up best documentary at the 2010 Asean Film Festival, said that he first asked to produce a documentary on Suu Kyi’s life one month after her release from house arrest in November 2010.

“At that time, she said it’s OK but wait for a while. In July 2011, after another request, I got the green light from her,” he said.

Since then the director has embarked on extensive research on the opposition leader’s life and also capture footage of her by-election campaign in March. When Suu Kyi was in Oslo last month to belatedly receive the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, he was also there to document that remarkable moment.

“There are other foreigners waiting for a chance to make a film on her life,” he said. “The reason why she allowed me might be that she wants to give that chance to her fellow Burmese.”

According to the director, the project will take around two years to complete. After several thorough discussions with the newly-elected parliamentarian, he has been able to finalize a timeline for the 90-minute documentary.

In contrast with French director Luc Besson’s biopic The Lady, which focuses on the effect Burma’s political turmoil had on Suu Kyi’s family life, this feature-length film will cover her formative years up until the present day and taking a long-overdue seat in the Burmese legislature.

“The major challenge now is that Mother Suu is on a very tight schedule. She is now spending most of her time in Parliament so she can’t give us as much time as we would like. So, there’s no wonder it will take nearly two years to completely finish the film,” said Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, admitting that the project never occurred to him while Suu Kyi was under house arrest.

“The idea only came into my mind when she walked free from detention,” he revealed.

Upon the completion of the film, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi said there would be a world premiere. “We still haven’t fixed the place for it. There’s still a long way to go. But we will do it. I still haven’t thought about the film’s title.”

He also revealed his intention not to restrict access to a documentary about probably the most-admired person in Burma.

“Locally, I will distribute it free of charge,” he said. “To reach out to a larger audience, we need to think about whether it should be in theaters or aired on local TV channels.”

When The Lady was released in September 2011, it immediately became the most purchased bootleg DVD in shops across Burma despite never being shown in cinemas.

“It’s sort of a love story. To my dismay, it has factual errors from the beginning,” said May Hnin, a 28-year-old Rangoon resident who watched a pirated copy of The Lady.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi said Luc Besson’s film should have been re-titled “The Husband” as the role of Michael Aris was so prominent—especially being portrayed as who lobbied to get his wife awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“In the scene of the Gen Aung San’s assassination, with a revolver pointed to his temple, he’s portrayed as someone meek. It damages the image of our national hero who has never easily surrendered,” he explained. “Given the historical errors in the film, I have to say The Lady is a biopic made in a hurry without any proper research.”

When he told Suu Kyi about those inaccuracies, she replied “it’s good for you guys to take lessons from it.”

In an interview earlier this year with The Wall Street Journal, Luc Besson said he had no access to an accurate history while making the film. “You cross all the information and reduce the circle until it’s very small. Then you say, ‘The truth is somewhere here in the circle.’ You’re not sure, but at least you know you’re close to it,” he was quoted at the time.

Asked about the major impetus for his documentary, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi answers, “only my admiration for her, nothing else.

“It’s the very first time for me to make a documentary on someone. Burma has three internationally renowned persons—Aung San, the former UN General-Secretary U Thant and Mother Suu. Only she remains walking the earth today. I just want to document her life with my art as best as I can.”

Related article: Film about life of Gen Aung San.