RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Information (MOI) is hoping to have a draft Motion Picture Law submitted to Parliament by the end of this year, with the country’s erstwhile film censors saying the proposed regime “will not have serious limitations.”
“We are drafting the new law focusing on the interest of all of the people from the movie world, such as artists, technicians and producers, as well as concerned businessmen and investors. We will also focus on their rights and to promote the movie world,” Thein Htun Aung, director of the MOI’s Myanmar Motion Picture Enterprise (MMPE), told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
The law is being drafted by the Myanmar Motion Picture Organization (MMPO), a sister organization to the MMPE. “For the last two months, we are discussing the draft every Friday,” said Lu Minn, president of the MMPO.
“The target for a first draft is the end of the May, but maybe it will take longer, as many of our members are not experienced in making laws,” Lu Minn told The Irrawaddy.
Film censorship in Burma remains in place, though in practice, many restrictions dating from the military era have been allowed to lapse, with censors making no objection to documentaries and movies shown at several high-profile film festivals held since 2011.
“Since 2011, things have changed markedly,” Lindsey Merrison, director of the Yangon Film School, told The Irrawaddy, recalling a time when some of the school’s graduates were jailed—victims of a former military regime whose repression she sees as a vestige of the past.
But it seems, nonetheless, that the Burmese government still envisages a paternalistic role for itself, hinting that MOI officials will remain watchful for content that might, in the eyes of bureaucrats, cause a fuss. “We just give advice to them, to review and edit the unnecessary parts that are not appropriate within our culture and religion,” said Thein Htun Aung.
And setting what might be a precedent for the upcoming film bill, newly passed media laws include a provision that allows the MOI to review publication licenses annually—assessments that could be based on whether newspapers breach hazy, catch-all prohibitions on writing deemed offensive to religion or in contravention of the country’s 2008 Constitution, which is itself a charter that many in Burma want revised.
Separately, laws likely to enhance the primacy of Buddhism as the de facto state religion are being drafted by a commission appointed by President Thein Sein, seemingly at the behest of Buddhist supremacists such as the controversial monk U Wirathu, who has been accused of stirring up anti-Muslim violence in Burma.
Officials, however, claim that the forthcoming Motion Picture Law will lay the bedrock for an aesthetic flourishing.
“We encourage them [filmmakers] to produce films that can give knowledge to the audience with artistic sense, through creative industry,” Thein Htun Aung said.
A more supportive government attitude toward filmmaking might not be enough in itself, however, to help revive Burma’s film industry, which thrived prior to a military coup in 1962.
Lowbrow, badly produced tearjerkers are a staple of Burma’s film output—a creative malaise that is in part due to the restrictions put in place during military rule. “The environment has changed but the mindset of the people in the industry has not changed so much,” said Swe Zin Htike, a popular former actress turned director and producer.
Some official backing could, however, bolster the higher echelons of a sector that is finding it tough to gain commercial recognition. The Yangon Film School’s Merrison, whose school produces a mix of political documentaries and narrative films, said Burma’s TV networks are not always keen to pay for highbrow output.
“We’d like to lobby the government to support filmmaking rather than be wary of it,” she said.