If I want to see a Burmese film, I needn't get on a plane to Singapore to attend the Asean Film Festival. Because right here in Bangkok, starting next week, is the Myanmar Film Festival, organized by veteran Burmese director Kyi Soe Tun.
Kong Rithdee has the full story in today's Bangkok Post Real Time section ("Cultural Exchange", Page R1).
According to Kong, there are 208 movie screens in Myanmar (the name given to Burma by the coup-staging generals in 1989 who then violently put down a democracy uprising in 1990). The film industry makes about 20 films a year and hundreds more for the VCD market. The country's "golden age" was in the 1980s, just before video became popular demonstrations against the military government sent the country into a tailspin of isolation and poverty.
The Myanmar Film Festival runs from August 17 to 20 at Major Hollywood Ramkhamhaeng and will feature five films from Kyi Soe Tun, a veteran filmmaker based in Yangon (or Rangoon as it used to be called), who serves as the chairman of the Myanmar Motion Picture Association.
"Most of the 20 movies produced each year in Myanmar are comedies," he is quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post. "I wish that our directors were more interested in making realistic and artistic films, but it can't be helped that the audience still wants to see only comedies."
Each film in Myanmar costs around $100,000 to make. "If a film is popular, it can generate up to $200,000. But that doesn't happen regularly," says Tun.
Thai films are not screened, though Hollywood films are. Mostly, it's action films or dramas. Anything with sexual or political content is forbidden by the authorities.
Tun is also planning a historical epic, meant to tell the Burmese side of the story about the conflict between Ayutthaya and Honsa in the 16th century, which has been depicted countless times in Thai cinema, including the upcoming Naresuan, with Burmese always depicted as ruthless, one-dimensional villains.
As a boy prince, Naresuan was kidnapped by the Honsa and raised as a son by Honsa's King Burengnong, who taught Naresuan military tactics. Tun's planned epic will tell the same story from Burengnong's point of view, and will include the character of Prince Naresuan. And, as it turns out, according to Kong, Tun is a friend of Naresuan director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, and he has visited the Kanchanaburi set of the upcoming film a few times.
The films are (according to the Post, they will have English subtitles):
- Upstream (2003; 10am August 17, 8pm August 18, 5.30pm August 19 and 3pm August 20) - The story of a boy brought up in a monastery after his parents desert him.
- Never Shall We Be Enslaved (1997; 12.30pm August 17, 10am August 18, 8pm August 19 and 5.30pm August 20) - About King Thibaw, the last king of Burma, who struggled with two colonial powers, the British and the French.
- Hexagon (2006; 3pm August 17, 12.30pm August 18, 10am August 19 and 8pm August 20) - A comedy is about six young and middle-aged women from different families and backgrounds, all of them pregnant.
- Sacrificial Heart (2004; 5.30pm August 17, 3pm August 18, 12.30pm August 19 and 10am August 20) - A costume action-drama is set in 1074 during the reign of King Anawaratha the Great. With the kingdom at war, one of the king's generals falls in love with the king's bride.
- True Love (2005; 8pm August 17, 5.30pm August 18, 3pm August 19 and 12.30pm August 20) - A drama about the relationship of a Japanese man and young Burmese girl.
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)