Burma recently hosted its first international human rights film festival. For a country that was for so long closed off from the outside world, this is a sign that things are rapidly changing.
It was only the second major festival to take place in the country.
Projected onto the wall are the words “All human beings are born free and equal”.
This marks the opening of Burma’s first human rights film festival.
Entrance was free and each show was packed for the three days of the festival.
The Human Rights Human Dignity Film Festival featured more than 50 foreign and local films on human rights issues... once a taboo subject in Burma.
In the past, anyone talking about human rights risked a lengthy prison sentence.
21-year-old Aung Zaw Moe uses his film “Still in the dark: a piece of perfection”, to talk about basic communication rights.
“The phone is a basic form of communication for people to communicate with each other. We need cheap SIM cards so that everyone can afford to buy one.”
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is the festival director.
“Being an artist, I don't want to just create my art for its’ own sake. I want to make a contribution to the country during this transitional period. The screening of human rights films in the cinema is not the main aim, what’s more important is the Q and A session. Ordinary people can come and see the films and talk about them. In this way we can make ordinary people aware of human rights through entertainment.”
19-year-old Su Lat Nanda will soon fly abroad to continue her studies.
She felt inspired by the films.
“I didn’t know about human rights in the past. But now, I feel like I’ve learnt a little.. so I can learn more and more. We never had a chance like this before. Now, everything is allowed. We can speak freely and see with our own eyes.”
“Survival in Prison” was selected as the opening film.
It documents the life of political prisoner San Zaw Htway, who was released after spending 12 years in jail.... a heart-wrenching account of life behind bars.
San Zaw Htway was released last year with an amnesty from President Thein Sein, along with hundreds of other prisoners.
The president is widely praised for his reforms, but activists say there are hundreds more still languishing in prison.
29-year-old Yee Nan Theik is the film director.
“In the past, I couldn't image that I’d be able to produce this kind of documentary, but I’ve done it. However, I’m still anxious that the authorities might come and question me and arrest me. Are things changing in the country? Yes they are. But they haven’t changed yet.”
The film was awarded the highest prize, the “Aung San Suu Kyi Award”... and the ceremony was held on The Lady’s birthday.
Suu Kyi was also a member of the festival jury.
“If our young people are alright, the future of our country will be alright. And with the kind of creativity and intelligence that they have displayed throughout this film festival, we can be sure that giving the basic rights to all human beings, the young people and all…, our country would make dramatic progress in a very short time.
The festival is due to hit the road for a tour, bringing all the films to 13 villages which are without cinemas.
Winning director Yee Nan Theik, says it’s important for people to have their voices heard.
“I want to present the award to the people who were jailed because of what they believed in. Now I’ve got this prize... of course this will really help my career.”
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