History of Cinema in MYANMAR

Historical overview

Britain conquered Burma over a period of 62 years (1824-1886) and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony; independence from the Commonwealth was attained in 1948. Gen. NE WIN dominated the government from 1962 to 1988, first as military ruler, then as self-appointed president, and later as political kingpin. Despite multiparty legislative elections in 1990 that resulted in the main opposition party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) - winning a landslide victory, the ruling junta refused to hand over power. NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient AUNG SAN SUU KYI, who was under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and 2000 to 2002, was imprisoned in May 2003 and is currently under house arrest. In December 2004, the junta announced it was extending her detention for at least an additional year. Her supporters, as well as all those who promote democracy and improved human rights, are routinely harassed or jailed.

History of cinema from 1896-2000

Myanmar (formely known as Burma) has an extensive film history. Already in 1907 Elphinstone Picture Palaces were set up by Indian businessman Madan, a theatre chain that would eventually stretch across India, Burma (then a part of India) and Ceylon (now, Sri Lanka). The first all local movie was made with the remnants of two broken down camera's. In 1914 U Nyi Pu, the first Myanmar movie actor together with U Ohn Maung stumbled on the cameras in Yangon. They reproduced a working camera with 300 feet of film they received from a Bombay film industry agent. Allthough due to the very strong film industry in India Myanmar already had several movie houses across the country. Both the actor and the director took their inspiration from these movie houses featuring american and Indian films. They shot the first Myanmar feature film called Love and Liquor in 1919. The film finished shooting not before 1920 because Great Britain planned to stage the Empire Exhibition in London in 1919. The government requested the two movie-makers to shoot documentaries about the production of rice, teak, minerals and cottage industries. They suspended shooting the feature film and concentrated efforts on the documentaries. In return, the government in Myanmar permitted U Nyi Pu and U Ohn Maung to purchase a Williamson movie camera which could use 400 feet of film and a Willamson printing machine for negative films. In the same year U Ohn maun shot documentaries of the mourning and burial of a famous Myanmar politician. These reels were shown to an audience in Paris, being the first Myanmar film shown abroad. The 10-reeler, "Love and Liquor" was completed in 1920 and was shown in October at the Royal Cinema. It was also a huge success.

In 1921 the second feature film, "Ma Nu, the Village Damsel " was produced with U Nyi Pu playing the leading role. The feminine role was held by Ma Mgwe Myin who later changed name to, " Khin Khin Nu." The success of feature films boasted the industry resulting in the establishment of no less than ten motion picture companies only in 1921 and 1922. During the twenties more than 200 black-and-white silent feature films were produced. Legendary tales, Buddhist jataka stories, historical and love stories were the themes of the films. The forties were marked by films with politics as the main theme, approximately 50 sound films were produced during this decade. In 1927 the first film studio was built by U Ohn Maung and electricity was used for the first time to illuminate it. Foreign "talkies" came to Myanmar in 1929 and Myanmar filmmakers started producing sound pictures In 1932 the first talking film, " Shwe Ein Thee" was an experimental talkie short produced by British Burma Film Company in the same year. The Imperial Film Company of Yangon sent a team of director, actors and actresses to Bombay to shoot a feature sound film, " Ngwe Pay Lo Ma Ya" ( Money can't buy it). The story is the tells that the actors by boat and during the trip rehearsed the script so many times that the picture only took 29 days to be completed.

The second sound feature film was produced in Myanmar by British Burma Film Company, called "Lawka Neikban" ( Paradise on Earth). In 1935 U Nyi Pu and his brother U Tin Pe went to Japan to produce a feature film, " The Offspring of Japan". Except for U Nyi Pu and his brother who took the major roles in the picture, other movie characters were all Japanese. During the occupation by Japan in 1940 film production came to a full stop. After Myanmar gained independence in 1948, twenty five film companies produced 54 black-and-white silent films, and three black-and-white sound films. The first colour feature film under the title of " Chit Khai tar ahman par bei" ( It's true we have loved) was produced by Yangon Film company in 1958. Now, despite lack of up-to-date equipment, though not lacking in acting talents, Myanmar movie companies are producing colour sound films at a steady rate. Myanmar movies had started from scratch but have striven to produce motion pictures depicting Myanmar cultural traditions, customs, patriotism and political aspirations. In 1998, 15 Myanmar films and 547 video features were produced.

Nowadays the Military Junta dictates the themes of the movie makers. To demonstrate this chooking grip, some excerpts form a speech given by the Minister of Information at Myanma Motion Picture Awards (Academy Awards) in 2002 :

The duty of Myanma film artistes is to preserve national culture and character and Myanma styles, to contribute to the flourishing of patriotism and Union Spirit and to broaden the horizons of the people.
At a time when mass communication systems are spreading fast, the title of a film and the names of characters are to be chosen carefully so that they cannot be open to misinterpretation. Words to be used in the film need to be in consonance with Myanmar tradition and society. Only then will they be accepted in Myanmar society.
The objectives are: To preserve and safeguard national culture through film, to contribute toward the dynamism of patriotism among the people, to organize the people to participate in building of a peaceful, modern developed nation
Anno 2002 201 cinema's and over 30.000 video parlours are established, all being carefully monitored by Statehood censorship of the national film association, directly linked to the government.

Cinema links from MYANMAR

Kyaw Entertainment Nyamna film and video distribution company.
Myanmar Myamnar's major portal site, offers goverment news on cinema and the film industry
Myanmars Net News portal site in English offering general news, featuring a cinema section
Nagani Major news portal, includes an extensive film section

Htet Htet Moe Oo

Kyaw Hein

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