And now five films from the Festival Board! (Thaiddhi isn’t represented as a director, but he co-wrote the script for the last two.)
5 Beats Before Death, dir Thu Thu Sein and Katrine Philip
We ended up talking a lot about this film. It’s a tender documentary shot in Mingun Nursing Home (we passed by yesterday!), where the old attempt to let go of their attachments, Buddhist-style, before they die. But the truth is, there’s tons of humour and irony in the lives of the residents of the women’s wing, how their nurse is both fierce and tender, how they cling mischievously to their cheroots and Burmese medicine in spite of medical advice, how they mock the one among them who keeps weeping over her coming death, foretelling that she’ll be reborn as a ghost…

This piece was co-directed by Thu Thu with a Danish filmmaker as part of a Copenhagen initiative, pairing up Scandinavian directors with non-Scandinavians.

Thu Thu: When I was studying overseas, I noticed not a lot of people liked to discuss death. And since these people were more willing to talk about it, I decided to present it from a Buddhist viewpoint. my grandfather was also one of the people who openly discusses death with me and we had long conversations with this and part of the influence comes from him.

Kaffe: I just want to say that as a European the fact that you work with old people and ask how you prepare for death… In Europe it would always be about how are you enjoying your life now? The focus would always be about your life now. So your focus really is Buddhist perspective.

Me: How did the Scandinavian audience react?

Thu Thu: It’s a bit of a sad story. I wasn’t involved in the editing process because I couldn’t afford to travel to Copenhagen. I had to communicate via e-mail. I wasn’t able to make it to the premiere either. And I only received the DVD one week ago.  This is the first time I’m seeing the final cut.


Kaffe: Are you happy with it?

Thu Thu: Yes, but I don’t really like the music. But the story is good.
Into the Ring, dir. Aung Ko Ko
A documentary profile of a young boxer trying to fight his way out of poverty – traditional Burmese boxing seems pretty much like Muay Thai.

Aung Ko Ko: I made this film because I personally don’t like sports. I don’t like football, I don’t like wrestling and basically I’m trying to discover why people enjoy watching other people wrestle. I was basically trying to answer these questions: why do people like it, is this the cause of wars. But these did not make it into the film.

Also in 2006, when we were not yet as open, we had a lot of issues [we could not discuss, such] as poverty. So I tried to reveal that as one of the sub-layers within the film. So I tried to show it as one of the wrestlers who was trying to overcome poverty.

Thaiddhi: In 2006 when this film was made, we were not as open. We had a lot of trouble working as documentary filmmakers, and also because it was hard to film on the streets, because we could get in trouble.

We were trying to tell the stories of ordinary people in the streets. Although it may look like we’re skimming the surface, we really tried to show the social issues that affect people in the country.

Behind the word documentary are the two words “truth” and “evidence”, which are two words that the government is very scared of. So we tried to introduce documentary in this country, and get people to understand what is close to them, what they can relate to.    
Beyond the Light, dir Myo Min Khin
Another documentary profile, this time of a blind guitarist. Personally, I think this territory is a little stale, but some interesting moments: his irritation with songs about colours, the scene where he imprints a piece of paper at lightning speed with a Braille stencil, then reads a Buddhist scripture back to us. He uses the same technique for musical notation.

Myo Min Khin: This was my first film as a director. I knew the character very well: I used to sit with him at a teashop and we were very good friends. I wanted to make a film because the way he thought about the world was very unique. And this is someone who is very unsatisfied with his life even though he can play the guitar in a way that not a lot of people could. Also I could film it the way I wanted.
Forest, dir Thu Thu Sein
The River, dir Thu Thu Sein
And back to video art again: two brief sequences of women getting swallowed up by reams of red cloth, seduced by another woman wearing too much eye makeup. What’s this really about? China, apparently – the way Chinese businesses are wrapping their tendrils into every recess of emergent Myanmar.

These were school project films, made while in Prague, under certain conditions: the filmmakers could only shoot with 35mm film, had just 3 rolls, and couldn’t use dialogue. To complete their allegory, they actually searched out a location that looked like the banks of the dam-threatened Ayerawady/Irawaddy – a disused mining site.

Weirdly heavy-handed and propagandistic, IMHO. But I couldn’t give my feedback – tomorrow’s our last day in Myanmar, and I was rushing off with some artists to visit the Teak Bridge.

Sorry, Wathann Film Festival. Circus people gotta go fly trapezes. Have a good second day of the fest!


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