Myanmar/Burma on Screen

14 August 2015 | 14:00 | University of Vienna, Audimax (main auditorium)
Free admission

Over the last five years Myanmar/Burma witnessed rapid political and economic changes after decades of military dictatorship. A new government entered the arena which was installed by the previous regime, but nevertheless opened the space for civil society and political dialogue. But 50 years of civil war and poverty left a difficult legacy that is hard to overcome. The Yangon Film School is one of the most prominent observers of Myanmar’s everyday stories as well as historic disasters, such as cyclone “Nargis”. Being the first film school for documentary film in Myanmar/Burma it plays a crucial role for a growing young generation of film makers in the country. Its numerous short documentaries shot over the past ten years, during the annual film workshops, provide a unique glance on a complex country that is still little understood. The Myanmar film program will present selected documentary films from the Yangon Film School produced over the past few years. The screening in Vienna will be the premiere in Austria. The director of the Yangon Film School Lindsey Merrison will be attending the screening for a Q&A.

Burmese Butterfly

Films from YFS–Yangon Film School |

14:00: Nargis (2010), 60 min, by The Maw Naing and Pe Maung Same

In May 2008 a cyclone called Nargis raged for hours in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwaddy Delta, killing 140,000 people. Seven days after the storm, several young Burmese filmmakers made their way – secretly, since filming was banned by the government – to villages that had been utterly devastated, and met people who had lost everything to the cyclone. They recorded scenes that touched them to the core, moving through a world that appeared more surreal than real, where life and death seemed to coexist. Their images reflect their own feelings as much as those of the people they met; these emotions have been woven into a film that conveys what it means when a natural disaster like Nargis changes forever the lives of so many.

After being banned in Myanmar under the military dictatorship the film Nargis finally received its long-awaited Myanmar premiere during the 2nd Wathann Filmfest in Yangon in September, 2012. After outings at 18 film festivals all over the world with many prices won, this festival screening also marked the first time that the filmmakers’ real names were mentioned in the credits. Since the film had been shot illegally in the delta, it was deemed safer not to mention the creators’ real names at previous screenings in order to protect them. Surprising reforms undertaken by Myanmar’s government since the beginning of 2012 convinced the team behind Nargis that the film could at last be shown in Myanmar where it was made.

16:00: Last Kiss (2014), 22 min, by Seng Mai

Onetime film director Jaing Chying runs a women’s shelter near Kachin Independence Army Headquarters in Laiza, Kachin State. Every day since civil war resumed between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Organisation in 2011 she has written and recited a poem, thus giving an unmistakable voice to those caught up in this bitter conflict.

16:30: Tyres (2013), 31 min, by Kyaw Myo Lwin

A tyre recycling workshop in Myanmar’s former capital of Yangon is a site of multiple uses and multiple deaths, for this is the place where defunct tyres are transformed from their original shape and use, and are reborn into new and completely different lives. Filmed almost entirely in black-and-white, this observational documentary gently explores a community of tyre cutters and recyclers, young and old, male and female, as they create with their super-sharp blades, careful eyes and skilful strokes, buckets, brushes and slippers from discarded rubber tyres.

The film Tyres won the “Material Culture and Archaeology Film Prize” at the 14th RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film, Bristol 16 – 19 June 2015

17:15: Burmese Butterfly (2011), 12 min, by Hnin Ei Hlaing

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

17:30: Lady of the Lake (2014), 22 min, by Zaw Naing Oo

Governments – even decades-old military regimes – may come and go but, like many rural communities in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), the lives of the villagers of Pyun Su on the banks of Moe Yun Gyi lake are pervaded by deeper traditions – above all the lively cult of the nat.

Winner of the 2013 Goethe-Institut Myanmar Jade Award for Documentaries: ‘A beautifully filmed, rare glimpse of some of Myanmar’s powerful supernatural beliefs and their meaning for the people who practice them in this stunning Lakeland region not far from the country’s former capital of Yangon.’