Thursday, January 5, 2012

Art of Freedom film festival smash hit with audience


Thursday, 05 January 2012 20:57 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The popular film “Cut this Scene” took home the top prize in The Art of Freedom film festival in Rangoon on Wednesday night. The award was presented by Aung San Suu Kyi, who helped sponsor the festival.

The satirical film portrayed a government censorship committee struggling to define on what grounds a critical film should be censored.

“It showed people do not accept the flawed system in our film industry. It showed people do not accept censorship and the reasoning of the censors,” the film’s director, Waing, told Mizzima.

More than 7,000 voters crowned the film at the festival held from January 1 to 3.

The Art of Freedom film festival was a first in Burma, pushing the limits of expression, and screening a wide range of films that were uncensored and critical of the former military regime that ruled the country for decades before recent elections, which created a Parliament.

“Rope” directed by Min Thike won the “Best Short Film” award, “Freedom and Unity,” directed by Zaw Bo Bo Hein, won the “Best Animation” award, “Still in the Dark,” directed by 19-year old director Aung Zaw Moe, won the “New and Youngest Film Director” award, “Click in Fear,” directed by Sai Kyaw Khaing, won the “Best Documentary” award, and Waing’s “Cut this Scene” won the “Audience’s Choice” award.

Fifty-four films were shortlisted by judges from a total of 188 entrants. “I believe all these films depicted freedom in their art and the technology,” said film director Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, one of the judges.

Some films were disseminated and spread before screening on the Internet and were disqualified, but were accepted again after the directors and producers described how they were released without their knowledge, said Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi.

“In the coming years, we will have tighter rules, but we had to relax them this time,” he said.

Prizes were presented by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Prize money for the winners was 1 million kyat each (about US$ 1,200).  Three winning films will compete in an international film festival and receive $5,000 for expenses, provided by German film directors and supporters. Twenty film directors have been invited to a workshop to be held at American Centre in Rangoon on January 15-29.

The Guardian newspaper described the scene at the festival on Wednesday night as a daring bid to speed up change as images of police repression during the unrest in 2007 were projected on a large screen as part of the festival.

Inside a conference hall, thousands had gathered to watch a series of politically charged films that provoked gasps and applause from an audience not used to open defiance of Burma's strict censorship laws. A banner read: "Free Art, free thought, freedom."

The event was organized by film directors, artists and the comedian Zarganar, who is due to meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is in Burma this week.

“This is free expression,” Zarganar said. “This is a step in the right direction. And we are not afraid. We are never afraid.”

Min Thai Ke, the winner of the best short film for his depiction of the plight of the poor and political prisoners, said Burma was living "through a very fragile time" but that he too was not afraid.

The film, “Click in Fear,” directed by Democratic Voice of Burma cameraman, Sai Kyaw Khaing, followed photojournalist Law Eh Soe during a period when the former ruling junta was hostile toward journalists in the country.

“I didn’t expect the award,” said Sai Kyaw Khaing. “I just wanted people to see what happens in Burma – it’s for the people who love justice and freedom.”

It took around three months to collect the footage and carry out several interviews on the Thai border with Law Eh Soe, who is now in the U.S. The journalist is also featured in a book documenting the lives of Burmese under military rule, titled “Nowhere to be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime.”

In it, he describes the perils of being a journalist in Burma: “As a photographer, you’re just crazy for it—you don’t care what’s happening. I know there are hundreds of people beside me, but I just take the picture. And then when my blood cools off, I think, ‘Oh, they might come and arrest me’.”

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