But this imagination has been seen lacking slightly last year. The New Vision Award was handed over to no one, and there were only 11 films in the competition category – down by more than half from 29 in 2017. In fact, the film festival did not screen a single short film in its fourth edition in 2014, as every entries fell by the wayside in the early round.
Before the call for entries for this year’s Wathann Film Festival closes on June 1, Metro looks back at the festival’s eight-year history and highlights 10 award-winning short films and documentaries. Perhaps with this inspiration, we can look forward again to seeing film creations that will spring up from the unbounded imagination.
10. Ok I’m fine
The Wathann Film Festival has served as a launch pad for the superstars of tomorrow. After winning the best actor award with the short film, the child actor Pyae Pyae shot to stardom. She recently earned a central role in a blockbuster horror, The Only Mom, a Myanmar film helmed by a Thai director.
Marrying a simple story and authentic acting, director Aung Htet gives GG (Pyae Pyae), a child-sized script based on a youngster’s world, a loving, but clueless grandmother, school-phobia, and bullying friends who put a lizard in her lunch, an innocent revenge and a messy dance class. Let’s not forget the beloved teacher who sometimes doesn’t understand our feelings, when we need her to. Yes, the film has that too.
9. Miss or Miss
Even in a documentary, we sometimes tend to seek a rebel who later transforms into a hero, fights off bad guys and marches to victory. The sheer joy of Miss or Miss is that it surprisingly combines all this. Plus, it has a quick-witted character who can ask smart questions, which is a bonus.
There is no scientific proof that being gay and bad karma from past lives are related, but in her society Nge Nge Aung said, “It’s bad karma whether I live my life with my head or my ass held high. It is bad karma whether I am lying down or sleeping. Isn’t it their bad karma being obsessed with who I am?” Or to her teacher who can’t stop calling her names, she finally had to ask a question, “Are you here to teach me or to ask me about being gay?”
Yes, Nge Nge Aung is a transwoman. She loves to sit behind a boy on a motorbike, dreams of becoming a Miss, and has the only brother, with the same pronoun who has already gotten there. Having seen one crown at her home pushes Nge Nge Aung to a relentless quest of her own, and her series of misses slowly make us lose faith in our rebel. But it comes back when the crowning triumph comes after a suspenseful climax. What a fantastic feast!
Period is a paradoxical film. It embodies a fictional world that is more real than an actual one, which is also artificial.
The film flirts with audio-visual aspect of filmmaking, and is constructed completely devoid of narration while conveying so much. A woman encloses a red rose in a book closet. Then she herself is struggling to save a trapped soul. The grotesque images of generals in uniform whispers the unspeakable suffering of the Period. A half buried head accompanied by the lyrical howling and whining boldly paints the transfiguration of a human body with uncanny repulsion. `
In every haunting sequence, Period mourns the birth and celebrates the death without words; Period blossoms and falls without words; Period seeks pain in pleasure without words; Period seeks pleasure in pain without words.
7. Flowerless Garden
At first sight, this New Vision winner seems to be the mere record of traditional craftsmanship, verging on the extinction in a small village in Mon State. Suddenly, it was cut to Kuala Lumpur’s busy streets, before it leads us into a sprawling passageway, lined with cramped rooms – sized somewhere between a cage and a bathroom in a mansion. Inside on the wall of one room, “A day when we succeed” is scribbled in Burmese.
Flowerless Garden zooms in on the dimension of poverty – of Myanmar migrant workers from Mon State and their families – by juxtaposing life at home and away. Inside the homeland’s territory, babies growing up into teenagers without their parents around; for some people, the debt for migrating, had to be repaid for years and the mounting depression develops into a full-blown mental illness.
Those on the foreign land are also trapped in an insurmountable debt, identity crisis, and immense dilemma of not being able to return to or support families left behind. These are not localized, but prevailing phenomenon in some parts of Myanmar. And what ensues in a poverty-wrecked community will not end here with the things in the film.
6. A Simple Love Story
A Simple Love Story is not a simple love story. Love can be simple, and sometimes it can be complicated. Sometimes the censorship in Myanmar can make it more complicated.
This boy-meets-girl documentary is the one and only film so far to won the award – in the same year as Miss or Miss – but has not been screened at the Wathann Film Festival yet. The censorship board pressed on making the protagonist never ask the question at the end of the film. In fact, the film is partly the externalisation of its director’s own sexual orientation, and Hnin Pa Pa Soe’ mighty fidelity to her film is irreversible. When this standoff between the director and the censors played out, it was a full scale battle with homophobia on one side and the power of love, of truth and art on the other.
In A Simple Love Story, a transwoman meets a transman. The rest has what you expect – which cannot be quite simple perhaps – in a love affair between two people. Isn’t it simple?
5. Now I’m 13
How many of us have ever thought to sell out our own father? Maybe not you, but the 13-year-old character, Ma Aye Kaung has. But this is only if someone wants him for free.
Ma Aye Kaung is an uncared-for girl in an uncared-for society where concentrated wealth overrides major poverty. She herds goats, and has a notion: “It is good to have water because we can wash our butt clean.” But sometimes she wonders where all the water comes from. Ma Aye Kaung innocently dreams to be reborn so as to reverse the fate of being an illiterate and choosing her parents. With her mother akin to a slave for her father, a life-long loser and jobless boozer who often commits domestic violence, Ma Aye Kaung said, “I just want to run away and go die sometimes when I pick beans on hot sunny days.”
Timing is the masterstroke of this social-realism film. The black and white sequence of six-year-old Ma Aye Kaung, a self-employed child worker, was taken in 2007 by the same director Shin Daewe, who was then a journalist at the Democratic Voice of Burma, a non-profit media organisation based overseas. Shin Daewe said this was exactly seven years before the political transition in Myanmar, which also coincided with Ma Aye Kaung’ phase of physical change.
We are now in 2019, when Ma Aye Kaung will turn eighteen. What will this transition be like for her? What would she morph into?
Six years after winning an award at the first Wathann Film Festival, Sai Kong Kham comes back by train bearing a banner “A Journey of Self-discovery.” Right after it pulls in, a silhouette asks:
“Hello, yes, who is it?”
This proud winner of New Vision Award will take you to the new frontier of – documentary-making and – familiar journey which the Yangon circular line has made a million times. On these back-and-forth rides in three years, Sai Kong Kham made himself into a visceral passenger and immortalised total strangers.
Here are some of his distinguished cast in the Train: a man selling crime journals for your entertainment, a poet with a poem, a young boy selling happiness, who doesn’t seem happy, an invisible musician who composes the Train’s siren wailing and clacking melody, a man who abruptly finds summer when he wakes up from day dreaming in the rain, a child with a red shoe, a man with a mustache, and a train with a new destination.
3. Next Month
A broody-looking middle-aged man is sitting on a bed, topless, with the rest of him covered in a white sheet. The room is finely furnished, but in a way suggesting that the man and the room don’t belong to each other. A woman of similar age comes out of the bathroom, changes into a robe, and asks him to go quick. She also reminds him to take money from her purse – instead of being given it.
With full use of old-as-time formula, Next Month is a less-is-more drama with few words. It throws us into the story in the middle of things, and leaves us there: a half-broken cheroot in the man’s breast pocket, the pale-looking young girl sitting outside on a platform, waiting for the man, the promise of the woman to come see her next month.
What is framed in a five minutes time will never explain what have happened before it and what will happen next month.
2. Mother’s Burden
This dualism of protagonist and antagonist within us is cleverly documented in Mother’s Burden.
“Even if we last only a month, I will marry him,” recalls, the 68-years-old Daw Khin, Aye (not her real name) of her young rebellious days. It lasted more than a month, but less than a year when the other woman appeared. The revelation of who she is would have been more devastating, for a woman with a six-week-old daughter, than a short-lived marriage. Fast-forward to sixteen years, Daw Kin Aye forces her daughter into an underage marriage with a boy she believes is honest and can be trusted. But what she did to go back and undo her past just iterates that past. “I can’t put out the fire I’ve started,” laments Daw Khin Aye at the end of the film.
Mother’s Burden is smouldering on a deeper level, but there is one moment which will make you wonder who has actually started the fire when Daw Khin Aye said, “No matter how hard I worked to feed her, my mother never loved me.”
1. The Special One
Director La Min Oo, who calls himself a “freelance optimist”, turns a fish market into a green football pitch. He even seems to hear the noise of fish buckets screeching, and ice blocks clacking as the electric, kinetic background music. Thus, The Special One becomes a superlative, unlike anything before or since.
A shared trait in five out of six documentaries in this list – and in Myanmar – tend to bring out the deep social conscience of its filmmakers. There is nothing wrong with the sympathy-seeking theme, but it is also not harmful if you can illuminate some dull corners of life and see their funny sides.
Ko Kan Oo and his guys fight against time to get every single fish onto a dish as fresh as it arrives at their San Pya Fish Market. They kick off a day uniformly in Chelsea football club jersey fanatically sponsored by their hefty fishmonger, U Myint Lwin. The world is running smoothly – so is their fish market – as long as U Myint Lwin sees Chelsea colours everywhere. “Special One” is printed on his Chelsea kit.
La Min Oo doesn’t forget to give us a healthy dose of tension and conflict in this Premier League drama. Do you dare to tell your big boss, who lives and breathes Chelsea and even stutters when he talks about the team, that you are at heart,a man for Manchester United? Just keep calm and be like Ko Kan Oo. He is an aspiring boss though now playing hard in the guise of Chelsea’s captain – to take over the fish market and turn it into a Manchester United empire. He will buy you not only two, but five different jerseys so that you are with your team even to bed and on dates. What a dream! But just a moment. A fishing boat is arriving with a full load!
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