After an absence of nearly six years, actor and director U Kyaw Thu is planning on returning to the film industry by directing a movie based on real-life stories he encountered while working with the Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS).
U Kyaw Thu founded the society in January 2001 to provide free funerals for poor families.
His dedication to humanitarian work left little time for acting, and in 2007 the government banned him from working in the film industry after he donated food to monks who took part in the so-called Saffron Revolution.
U Kyaw Thu told The Myanmar Times he was inspired by the lives of the people who were in need of help from the FFSS.
“Every day, the stories of the people we helped really touched my heart,” he said.
He recounted one tragic incident in particular: “In one family, the son left for school after saying goodbye to his mother. A few minutes later the mother heard her son screaming outside. She went out and saw her son lying in a puddle of water. She thought he had slipped and fallen so she tried to lift him from the puddle, but in reality he had killed by an electric shock. So when she tried to lift him, she was also killed by the shock.”
U Kyaw Thu said he did not want to make films with the sole purpose of entertaining audiences, because doing so “reaps more demerit than merit”.
“Instead, I want to film real-life stories and real incidents that can educate and teach the audience,” he said.
U Kyaw Thu started his film acting career in 1968. He won Best Actor at the Myanmar Academy Awards for Tapyi Thu Ma Shwe Htar (Ma Shwe Htar from a Faraway Land; 1994) and Best Director for Amae No Pho (A Charge for Mother’s Breastfeeding; 2003).
He said a regular contributor to the FFSS has donated K15 million towards making a film about the lives of volunteers for the society and ordinary people whom they help.
“I have been doing social work and I was brought up in the film industry, since my father owned Amyothar (Nation) Film Company, so I have decided to make the film myself,” said U Kyaw Thu.
Although the new movie will mark his return to feature-length filmmaking, he has not been completely idle in that department: In the past several years he has made short films about social work, and he submitted a short film entitled Freedom for the Art of Freedom Film Festival held in Yangon in January 2012.
U Kyaw Thu said he was able to connect with people for the upcoming film because of his devotion to helping those who cannot afford the costs of cremation for deceased family members.
“Last April a father and son were killed in a car incident on the way from Mandalay to Yangon, after the son had requested his father to celebrate Water Festival in Yangon,” he said. “When I saw the remains of the son, he still had a water pistol clutched in his hand. The story of that child really tugged at my heartstrings.”
He said that while such incidents might be included in the film, the story will highlight the selflessness of the doctors and social workers who volunteer at FFSS, as well as the happiness and hardships of ordinary people he has met as part of his daily routine.
“Actors and actresses have offered to donate their acting to this film. I will make the film with their help, including Miss Myanmar International Nang Khin Zay Yar,” said U Kyaw Thu.
He added that he will start filming once he gets permission from the Myanmar Motion Picture Enterprise.