Motion Pictures in Burma

   The history of cinema in Burma goes back to 1920, when a home-produced silent film, Myitta nit Thuyar (Love and Liquor, described by The Irrawaddy magazine as "the first successful attempt at film-making by the Burmans under the directorship of Maung Ohn Maung") was shown at a Rangoon (Yangon) theater. The first talking film, Ngwe Pay Lo Maya (It Can't Be Paid with Money), premiered in 1932. Before World War II, a number of Burmese studios produced motion pictures for local audiences, although the colonial government sometimes banned films touching on controversial subjects (such as Aung Thapyay, which dealt with King Thibaw and his exile by the British). However, Thakin Nu coproduced a film about the student movement, Boycotta, which the government permitted to be shown; his comrade Aung San is said to have acted in some scenes. During World War II and the Japanese Occupation, a perennial foreign favorite with Rangoon audiences was Gone with the Wind.
   After the war, Burmese cinema enjoyed a revival, with as many as 80 films being released annually from 1950 to 1960; many dealt with political themes, such as Pa Le Myat Ye (Tears of Pearls), with its theme of anti-imperialism. One of the most famous film stars was Naw Louisa Benson, a former "Miss Burma" who married a Karen (Kayin) guerrilla leader and assumed command of his men after he was assassinated in 1965; undoubtedly, she was Burma's most glamorous insurgent leader. Another popular film actress, Wa Wa Win Shwe, had a scandalous relationship with Olive Yang, the notorious "war-lady" of Kokang.
   After Ne Win established the Revolutionary Council in March 1962, studios and movie theaters were nationalized, and Burmese cinema assumed a monochromatic socialist hue. With the seizure of power by the State Law and Order Restoration Council in 1988, the film industry was privatized, but it remains under the tight control of the Motion Picture and Video Censor Board. For example, films cannot be shot on college campuses because of the traditional association of students with political opposition, and a recent ruling by the Board forbids actresses to wear Western clothes, no matter how modest. According to the 1996 Motion Picture Law, the industry's purpose is "to consolidate the national unity, to give correct thoughts, and to promote sound knowledge; to help towards purifying the moral character; and to contribute to perpetuation of sovereignty and national peace and development." Often, Military Intelligence or departments of the government subsidize productions, such as Thu Kyun Ma Khan Byi (Never Shall We Be Enslaved), a melodramatic film by Dr. Myo Thant Tin about patriotic resistance against the British at the time of the Third AngloBurmese War. Predictably, it won seven indigenous "academy awards" in 1996. State Peace and Development Council Secretary1 Khin Nyunt played a guiding role in the film industry before his arrest in October 2004. It is through his encouragement that a film on AIDS in Burma, Ngar Thutabar Yaukkyar Meinma (Men and Women Are Both Human), was produced, distributed, and won seven "Oscars" in 2004.
   Because of censorship and the lack of resources, most local films are dull, and there are few foreign alternatives. But watching movies is a popular pastime, and cinemas are almost always crowded because few other pastimes are available to people of modest meanseven in a big city like Rangoon. Those who have access to satellite television (satellite dishes sprout in large numbers on top of Rangoon buildings) and videodiscs have a much wider variety of entertainment from which to choose.
   See also Mass Media in Burma.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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