Film-making in Myanmar

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  • Four True, False or Not Given

  • Three multiple choice

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1 Burma's first film, captured with a second-hand camera, was a recording of the funeral of Tun Shein - a leading politician of the 1910s, who campaigned for Burmese independence in London. Despite its documentary nature, the Burmese public was very proud of the film, which opened with the notice "Please accept our apologies for the poor quality of the film".


2 The first Burmese sound film was produced in 1932 in Bombay, India with the title Ngwe Pay Lo Ma Ya (Money Can't Buy It). Films dealing with social issues and political themes became popular in the 1930s although the films were often censored by the British colonial government. There were also films that were banned, such as Do Daung Lan (Our Peacock Flag) in 1936 and Aung Thabyay (The Triumphant Jambul) in 1937. However, the political film ‘Boycott’ which was directed by the student leader Ko Nu in 1937 and starred other student leaders was approved by the censors. Unfortunately, many of the films from this era no longer exist due to the lack of adequate preservation.


3 After World War II, Burmese cinema continued to address political themes. Many of the films produced at this time had a strong propaganda element to them. The film Palè Myetyay (Tear of Pearl) highlighted the importance of the armed forces or Tatmadaw to the country, while Ludu Aung Than (The People Win Through) featured anti-Communist propaganda. The script was written by U Nu who served as Prime Minister during the 1950s.

4 Starting with the socialist era in 1962, there was strict censorship and control of film scripts, which increased following the political events of 1988. After the government moved to open up the economy in 1989, the movie industry was privatized. Film stars and directors who had been involved in the political activities of the 1980s were banned from appearing in and creating films. The government issued strict rules on censorship and largely determined who produced films, as well as who won awards. One of the impacts of this was that over the following years, the movie industry shifted to producing many lower budget direct-to-video films. Most of the movies produced at this time were comedies. In 2008, only 12 films worthy of being considered for an Academy Award were made, although at least 800 VCDs were produced.


5 An issue plaguing contemporary Myanmar cinema is a steep decline in the number of theatres in which to screen the films. According to a December 2011 survey, the number of theatres nationwide had declined to just 71 from their peak of 244. The survey also found that most were several decades old and poorly maintained, and that only six "mini-theaters" had been built in 2009–2011. Moreover, the vast majority of the theatres were located in Yangon and Mandalay alone.


6 Recently Myanmar cinema gained some visibility in international film festivals. In 2014, The Maw Naing’s ‘The Monk’ premiered at the 49th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Followed by the participation in main competitions of Wera Aung’s short film ‘The Robe’ at the 21st Busan International Film Festival and Aung Phyoe’s ‘Cobalt Blue’ at the 72nd Locarno Film Festival.


7 In 2019, some local media reported a revival in the local movie industry, stating that in 2016 there were only 12 movies cleared by local censorship while in 2018 there were 40, and more than 60 in 2019. The success of Now and Ever (2019) is perhaps indicative of this revival.


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