Gingerly, film-maker tests limits of freedom in Myanmar

Sat Aug 3, 2013 10:41pm EDT
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By Jared Ferrie

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar movie director Zay Par is doing what would have been unthinkable two years ago - putting the finishing touches to a film that harks back to a 1988 student uprising brutally put down by military rulers.

Hunched in front of a computer in a cramped room in Yangon, Zay Par says he is testing the boundaries of newfound artistic freedom that has blossomed since the junta handed power to a hand-picked civilian government in 2011 - but very carefully.

"We will show our edit to the censorship board and they will decide whether to allow it or not," the 35-year-old said.

The protagonist of the film is an activist jailed during the student uprising. Now a freed political prisoner, he is looked up to by villagers who have sought his help in a dispute with a Chinese mining company.

As he shares his experience with them, there are flashbacks to 1988.

The movie would have been banned just a couple years ago, when the military ran the country, and the producer and director would have been in hot water. Even today a quasi-civilian government's reforms go only so far and film makers remain reluctant to touch on sensitive subjects.

After 49 years of military rule, President Thein Sein, a former army general, is spearheading sweeping changes that include lifting restrictions on freedom of speech. There has been an explosion of news media, but movies are still light on politics and heavy on action or comedy.

Zay Par's film will be the first to depict scenes of the 1988 uprising, when authorities killed at least 3,000 people and arrested thousands more, holding some for years as political prisoners.   Continued...

Movie director Zay Par (L) and his editor Zin Thaw work on their movie in the editing room in downtown Yangon July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Jared Ferrie