Myanmar army bans critical film

Myanmar’s military refuses to relax its grip on key areas of society. Source: Wikimedia

The organisers of a Myanmar human rights film festival have accused the military of preventing them from showing a film that is critical of the armed forces.

The movie, Twilight Over Burma, directed by Austrian filmmaker Sabine Derflinger, depicts the true story of a relationship between a Shan prince and an Austrian woman. It was removed from the opening night this week and the audience was told that censors had decided that it damaged the military’s image and national reconciliation.

A police truck was parked in front of the cinema for two nights.

The Film Classification Board’s deputy director general Thida Tin said the film endangered “national unity and also the stability of the country and of our people”. The army’s incessant fighting with rebel groups, regardless of the wishes of the democratically elected leaders, might be seen as a greater obstacle to national unity and reconciliation.

“There are certain criteria used for censoring Myanmar films. An important point is that issues that can affect unity among national races shouldn’t be allowed,” Myo Myint Maung, deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Information, told Reuters.

The censorship comes as a disappointment to the film industry, which hoped that the new government would bring greater artistic freedom.

“It is the first time in four years one of our films didn’t pass the censorship committee,” the festival’s founder, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, was quoted saying by AFP.

Print censorship has been removed as a series of democratic reforms in the last few years but movies still need approval from the Ministry of Information’s censor board.

The movie depicts how Inge Eberhard (now Sargent) married an ethnic Shan prince only for their idyllic life in the Shan hills to unravel after the disastrous 1962 coup. The army arrested her husband Sao Kya Seng, who pushed for land reform and was active in Shan politics, and he died in mysterious circumstances. His death was never explained.

Festival director Mon Mon Myat condemned the new democratic government as “new wine but in the old bottles”.

The military is designated 25 per cent of parliamentary seats, controls key parts of the economy and appoints the powerful ministers of home, defence and border security.

The National League for Democracy administration and Derflinger were unavailable to comment.

In 2014, a documentary dealing with violence between Buddhists and the Muslim minority was banned, attracting activists’ anger.