Filmmaking and Politics: Myanmar Film Industry since the National League for Democracy Government
Fujioka: There was a MRTV program on the Internet introducing you and your career. The documentary presents you as a filial daughter who takes care of her family.
Kyi: That's just the perspective of the filmmaker. And, while they were making the documentary, I had not entered politics yet; I had time to spend with my family. Today, my time is divided between film and politics, and it's difficult for me to make time for my family. I joined the National League for Democracy (NLD) in 2012 and currently sit in its central committee. I support the NLD's election campaigns and work to connect artists with politics.
Fujioka: The Japanese news coverage of the 2015 General Elections in Myanmar was quite extensive, and there was much excitement over the outcome. In Yangon, the Wathann Film Festival*1 organizers, Thu Thu Shein and Thaiddhi, told me that the government was preparing to draft a new film law.
*1 The Wathann Film Festival is the first film festival in Myanmar which began in 2011. It presents and promotes Myanmar short films, documentaries, and independent films.
Kyi: I was the one who recommended Thu Thu Shein to the committee for the new film law. Having studied in Prague, she has extensive international experience which I thought would be an invaluable addition to the committee. Having said that, I am not a member of the acting committee and so I'm afraid I can't tell you more about how it is going.
However, I am on the board of the Myanmar Motion Picture Organisation*2 and do voice my opinions about cinema at their meetings. When the Assembly of the Union needs advice on the arts, my role is to act as the mediator for the community.
*2 The Myanmar Motion Picture Organisation is the official non-profit organization for cinema in Myanmar which was established in 1946. It hosts the Myanmar Motion Picture Academy Awards.
Fujioka: What kind of film law do you aspire for? For example, some people have suggested eliminating censorship and introducing a ratings system instead, or creating a state fund to support film production.
Kyi: Many film producers and directors are demanding a shift to a ratings system, but I think it is too early. Many people propose to abolish censorship, but I think we still need a certain degree of control. Yet I do admit I am against the current system of very harsh censorship.
I have to agree that it is better to have a wide range of freedom in terms of storytelling. In foreign films, for example, we see political characters, such as members of parliament, who are also "bad" or high-up bureaucrats who are corrupt. This kind of inclusive representation is positive, but when you consider cultural influence, I believe a certain level of censorship is still necessary.
Following the law is not considered high priority among Myanmar people today. Passing a new law does not guarantee that the people will abide by it, nor does it ensure that the law will be enforced. Our country is now in a transitional phase, in the midst of nation building. If we allowed everything to be free like in Western democratic societies, I am afraid the quality of our films will not get better; it may even get worse. Certainly a degree of freedom is necessary, but my friends and I often talk about how Myanmar needs a level of restriction, like Singapore.
Fujioka: What do you mean by restriction?
Kyi: I see a need for cultural considerations and rules for the kind of stories that are being made into movies, for example. The number of cinema screens has increased and more and more comedy films are being made and shown, thanks to easier access to technology. However, I see that the quality of the films is, instead of improving, worsening. The films are boosting unfavorable entertainment elements in order to attract the audiences' attention.
Fujioka: I see. You are concerned that in pursuing ticket sales, the content is getting indecent.
Kyi: Even a scene that's a little sexy titillates Myanmar audiences. And just one or two films of this type are enough for parents to disapprove of their children watching movies all together. With more of this kind of films, there might be an audience boost, but it will be accompanied by an even bigger surge of people who are critical of such a shift. They will consider one, small sexy scene to represent the entire output of the film industry and may think, "I don't want to see Myanmar films," "Myanmar film has fallen to such a level," "My child should not see this." The more people who drift away like this, the more disadvantageous it will be for our film community.