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Chatting Up A Storm - Claudia Cragg


Aug 4, 2013

This is a FIRST. First ever Google Hangout recorded interview with Myanmar award-winning film directors, Khin Khin Hsu, Shunn Lei Swe Yee, Hnin Ei Hlaing in conversation with KGNU's Claudia Cragg, together with the organizer of The Singapore Myanmar Film Festival, Dr Marlar Tun (herself a filmmaker, I Am Myanmar (YouTube).

What is lacks in audio quality (this is Myanmar, this is internet Google Hangouts not a fancy studio) is more than made up for by all the interviewees with their authenticity, veracity and bold spirit.

A polished, more orthodox, conventionally manicured journalistic piece will appear soon and air in the US and elsewhere over more old-fashioned airwaves.

(No apologies! The style of this piece is also orchestrated to make it as accessible here to those for whom English is not their first language).

From The Myanmar Times:

The first-ever Singapore Myanmar Film Festival has drawn rave reviews, both from Myanmar people living in Singapore and foreigners interested in learning more about Myanmar films.

This year’s festival is dedicated to Myanmar filmmakers” at home or abroad, the festival’s director, Benoit Shaack, told The Myanmar Times. “We want to give Myanmar filmmakers a chance to shine outside of Myanmar.”

In June, a panel of judges announced five winners had been selected from over 30 films submitted for consideration. The winning films were shown July 7 at the Golden Village theatre in Singapore, with the filmmakers being honoured the night before at an evening welcoming party.

First prize at the festival went to The Bamboo Grove by Khin Khin Hsu; second prize went to My Grandfather’s House by Shunn Lei Swe Yee; third prize went to Bungkus by Lay Thida (sadly, not available for this interview; fourth prize went to Burmese Butterfly by Hnin Ei Hlaing; and fifth prize went to The Old Photographer by Thet Oo Maung (also not available for this interview).

The Bamboo Grove, which won the festival’s top award, follows a naïve young city doctor whose first posting after medical school is a rural Kayin community in the Delta. The film portrays the deep-seated feelings of the people living there.

“This film is the true story of the scriptwriter, Dr Aung Min,” said Khin Khin Su, the film’s director.

She said the biggest difficulty when shooting the film in 2010 was the use of actual Kayin residents as actors. Some of them did not speak Myanmar, making communication difficult. But it also lent the film an air of realism which struck a chord with festival-goers.

“This is my first competition film,” Khin Khin Su said. “I never thought I would go to Singapore for a film festival or that my film would win first prize. I can’t describe my happiness.”

It may have been her first trip to the film festival, but she’s already made two more feature films since The Bamboo Grove, so it likely won’t be her last.

Another winner, Hnin Ei Hlaing’s film Burmese Butterfly, is already a veteran of the international film festival circuit, having been showcased in 18 countries.

Burmese Butterfly features 21-year-old hairdresser Phyo Lay looking back on a turbulent childhood and adolescence. A rare glimpse into the emergent gay community in this hitherto-isolated country, it describes how difficult it is to come out in Myanmar.

“I’m happy to win the prize,” said Hnin Ei Hlaing, “But I am more happy that this festival was organised … and that I got a chance to show my film in Singapore. Singapore is very close to our country and a lot of Myanmar people live there.”

Burmese Butterfly started filming in 2009. Before the cameras rolled, however, Hnin Ei Hlaing spent about six months getting to know the film’s lead actor.

“I hung out with Phyo Lay wherever he went, even at his home,” she said. “When I started directing the film, his aunty was pregnant. When the film was finished, she had already delivered her child.”

The film was originally supposed to tell the story of two gay men in Myanmar, one more feminine and one more masculine. But the family of the latter man would not allow shooting, so the film’s script had to be changed, Hnin Ei Hlaing said.

Even though Burmese Butterfly has been given a permit for public showings by the Myanmar Censorship Board, audiences in Singapore have to be 18 or over to see it. Despite the age restriction, Hnin Ei Hlaing is grateful the festival is connecting audiences to her film – and allowing filmmakers to get to know each other.

“We got to know many filmmakers and other technicians through this festival,” she said. “We can connect to each other through our films.”

The Singapore-Myanmar Film Festival was organised and funded by the Singapore Myanmar Exchange Organisation. The theme for this year was “Behind closed doors”. The festival included categories for short films, full-length features, documentaries and more, all made by young independent filmmakers of Myanmar origin.

First and second prize winners were awarded HD professional camcorders, and all filmmakers were given top-end post-production software for use on future projects. The organisers also arranged workshops for the five winners with filmmakers from abroad.

“Next year, we will try to hold an even better festival,” said Daw Marlar Tun, director of the Singapore Myanmar Exchange Organisation and coordinator of the Singapore-Myanmar Film Festival. She added that next year’s festival will also be accepting international submissions.