Myanmar’s dreams of independence (on screen)


HANGING around Wera Aung’s office is like visiting an exhibition on Myanmar’s independent film bubble. On the wall of Green Age Film, his production company, one can see pictures of international director friends, the posters of festivals he went to and of the films he’s directed.

This little wall of fame reflects not only Wera Aung’s interests, but also the talent of this young director who has been carrying his tripods around for nearly a decade, and with them the hopes of the Burmese independent movies industry.

Thu Thu Shein, a short film director and founder of the Wathann Film Festival, once told Weekend that most independent filmmaker’s essentially rely on local film festivals. She is right in a way because most of them use the festivals as a springboard.

But Wera Aung is an exception. He recently won two prizes at the World’s top ten film festival for his ongoing project One Summer day — he is the first Myanmar director to have achieved such a feat.

“These prizes encourage me to create more for me and for my country,” says the 32-year-old.

Wera Aung on the set of his movie "The Robe"

Wera Aung on the set of his movie “The Robe”

One Summer Day, of which the script was written by Aung Min (the author of The Monk by The Maw Naing), has been in the making since 2014. It was shortlisted for the 2016 Myanmar Script Fund’s prize and was presented in the Cannes Film Festival in May. It recounts the story of two siblings separated under military rule. He will start shooting next year in Kachin.

Independence and isolation

In recent years, a number of Myanmar independent filmmakers have been well received on the international film festival circuit but they have failed to gain popularity at home. In the meantime, the country’s low quality drama movies enjoy a wide audience around the country but are ignored overseas.

Wera Aung is trying to bridge that divide. In 2012, he was selected to join the FLY Film Leader Incubator Program held in the Philippines, with  20 other filmmakers from 10 Asean countries. This was a formative experience. “I had the chance to meet with the director of The Last Samurai and other experts. And it was not easy for me because I lacked the fundamentals of filmmaking. I had to work twice as much”.

In fact, Wera Aung is completely self-taught – he claims he has watched a movie every night since 2009, and sites books of Shwe Dome Bi Aung, Bogalay Tint Aung and Tin Than Oo as a source of inspiration.

He paid a high-price for his passion for film-making when he was thrown in jail for filming demonstrators during the Saffron revolution in 2007. He did not give up though, and in 2009 he started shooting short films.

The real lift came with the release in 2010 of When Time Stopped Breathing, a documentary on the Cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar in 2008. The movie won awards in several international film festivals and propelled its young Burmese director.

Film-making is the only career I could stand. – Wera Aung, Independent film director

Later, in 2013, he graduated from the Asian Film Academy (AFA) in Busan. He then joined the Berlinale’s Talents Tokyo in 2014 — both are known for churning out young independent and talented film makers.

“After I went to the international film festivals, I found out that there are no Myanmar films and filmmakers. I found it sad to be the only one raising my hand when they were calling for Myanmar directors, while fellows from Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and other countries came in groups”

So, he founded Green Age Film Production after he came back from AFA in 2013. He is now providing support for young filmmakers with funding and other resources such as story development classes, line production, equipment rental and post-production services. His aim is to accompany a new wave of independent film directors in Myanmar.

Green Age Film is also eyeing  co-productions with Thai, Nepalese, Filipino, Malaysian and American film directors.

The independence hero and his troops

Shooting independent movies does not only mean operating outside of the mainstream majors , it also is a state of mind. “I’m interested in society-based stories and most of my films are highlighting social issues,” Wera said.

It is also a life commitment. “Film-making is the only career I could stand. I am an activist. I don’t want to follow the mainstream and earn a lot of money by doing low quality dramatic movies and films,” Wera says. “I refused all of them as they would have destroyed my position and career that I built so passionately.”

Independent film director Wera Aung. Photos: SuppliedIndependent film director Wera Aung. Photos: Supplied

Wera Aung has firmly-held views, but also a strong vision for the future. “I wish we had a film fund to support independent filmmakers like in the other Asean countries,” he explains. The fund would be a financial vehicle managed and funded by the industry, not taxpayers. “We are responsible for the future of our industry, not the government”.

Acclaimed abroad and at home, Wera Aung is happy to lead the way, but he’d rather lead the troops. “I’m just at the start of my journey. But I don’t want to go alone.”

Source: Myanmar Times


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