Friday, August 18, 2017

Censors take aim at human rights film festival

The fifth edition of the “Human Rights, Human Dignity International film Festival” is taking place in Yangon this weekend.

Posters of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi holding the light blue festival’s logo flourished all over town, as this year’s edition is dedicated to her endeavour to make Myanmar a vibrant and pluralist democracy.

Sixty-six films celebrating freedom of thoughts and promoting human rights’ awareness will be shown at the Waziya cinema and Junction City. One movie, however, disappeared from the original list.

Jeanne Hallacy’s documentary Sittwe has been taken out of the official festival’s program by government censors.

“I honestly have no idea of why they banned my film,” director Hallacy told Weekend.

The 18-minutes documentary relates the stories of two teenagers whose lives have been affected by the ongoing conflict in Rakhine. She is a Muslim girl, he is a Buddhist boy.

Both teens saw their homes burned down during communal violence which set Sittwe ablaze in 2012. The pair shares its views about the conflict and suggests ways to mend a deeply divided society.  

The film is an attempt to present the different aspects of an extremely complex issue, and give voice to the two sides.

“We made it as a tool for peace,” says director Hallacy.

But the film was banned because it was deemed “religiously and culturally inappropriate to show to the public”.

“Even the word ‘Sittwe’ has become sensitive,” explains U Myo Win from the Smile Education and Development Foundation, the NGO producing the documentary.

“I have to submit each and every film to the censorship board before screening at the festival,” explains Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, the founder of the festival. “I watch them all myself first. I would have taken Sittwe out if its content had been inappropriate. But it wasn't,” he adds.

This is not the first time the festival provoked the ire of Myanmar’s censors. Last year, Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess, a drama set against the backdrop of political issues between Myanmar and Shan state, was taken out of the line-up. At the time, the censors said, the love story would have jeopardised the national reconciliation process. 

“I complained about the ban last year,” sighs organiser Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, “but my request fell on deaf ears. I won’t bother this time”.

"Sittwe"'s producer U Myo Win, on the other hand, will not give up. “I respect the decision of the censorship board, but I believe it defeats the purpose of a film festival on human rights. We have to honestly ask ourselves if we have entered a democratic age,” he says.

U Myo Win has vowed to organise private screenings of the documentary in Myanmar in August.

Meanwhile, Sittwe will be shown and a panel discussion on the conflict in Rakhine State will be held on July 5 in Bangkok at Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

 Photo - SuppliedPhoto - Supplied

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For more information on the festival: Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival facebook page.

For more information on Sittwe documentary: http://www.jeannehallacy.com