Penn Professor Directs Documentary: ‘Filmmaking for Democracy in Myanmar’

Jeanne Leong | jleong@pobox.upenn.edu | 215-573-8151
Monday, January 4, 2016

When Peter Decherney led a team of filmmakers and scholars to Myanmar in 2014, he quickly realized that there was a compelling story to tell about the country’s vibrant and, until recently, government-censored movie-making industry.

“They have this amazing film industry that I didn’t know anything about,” says Decherney, a professor of cinema studies and English in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts & Sciences.

For more than 50 years, the military-ruled government restricted and censored the work of filmmakers, but the laws were relaxed in 2011 when some civilians were appointed to Myanmar’s parliament. Filmmakers had more freedom to make their movies, but they still faced some censorship. There were growing concerns in recent years over some actions the government as taking, in one instance revoking and then reinstating the license of the medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders. For some, the action indicated that the government might be returning to its old ways of operating. 

In March, Decherney returned to Myanmar to shoot a short documentary about the movie-making industry’s role in politics and human rights. His nearly seven-minute documentary, “Filmmaking for Democracy in Myanmar,” was released in November, just before Myanmar’s national elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a majority in parliament, giving filmmakers hope that they will be able to make movies without government censorship. 

Decherney’s film was shown Dec, 4 at the “Films from the Underside - Global South Film Festival” at Goldsmiths College, University of London. 

The film is also available on Forbes.com:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterdecherney/2015/11/06/myanmar-and-its-film-industry-fear-election-could-mark-end-of-period-of-freedom/

In the film, Decherney interviews filmmakers, including Lamin Oo, who shared his thoughts on how the government made it difficult to produce a film in the country before the 2011 national elections, when topics such as politics and human rights were censored.

Oo says that, while the older generation of filmmakers were fearful of being arrested for taking video at protests, younger filmmakers are comfortable even filming police officers.

“Filmmaking is very important to human rights and politics in Myanmar,” says Decherney. 

During his time in Myanmar, Decherney found that there’s a growing human rights documentary film culture in the nation. Aung San Suu Kyi lends her name to the Myanmar human rights film festival.

“I think people are looking for some kind of decisive change after the election. I think it’s going to be a more complicated story than that. The National League for Democracy had a sweeping win, but it’s clear that the military government is going to retain quite a bit of control. It’s going to be a while before we know what kind of changes the elections will to bring.”

View "Filmmaking for Democracy in Myanmar" on Vimeo:

https://vimeo.com/144869716

Myanmar actress prepares to play a village girl by putting on traditional Thanaka (tree bark) face makeup

Myanmar actress prepares to play a village girl by putting on traditional Thanaka (tree bark) face makeup

Peter Decherney confers with cinematographer Tin Win Hlaing

Peter Decherney confers with cinematographer Tin Win Hlaing

Peter Decherney interviewing Grace Swe Zin Htaik while Annenberg Ph.D. candidate Sandra Ristovska works the camera and sound

Peter Decherney interviewing Grace Swe Zin Htaik while Annenberg Ph.D. candidate Sandra Ristovska works the camera and sound