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AsiaWednesday, June 29

Freedom to Film in Myanmar

A group of young filmmakers are among those taking advantage of the increasing liberties in Myanmar, including a documentary-film producer who is opening a new window into his country.

People in Myanmar are seeing more freedom of expression after the country shifted away from decades of military rule. A historic election last year gave power to Aung San Suu Kyi's party.

Its civilian-led government now runs the country.

People in Tokyo came out to a recent festival to watch films from Myanmar.

Thirty-year-old documentary director Lamin Oo is from that country. Three years ago, Oo formed a production company called Tagu Films with his childhood friends.

"In terms of filmmaking in Myanmar, there are exciting thing happening scene, you know, in 2011 when we restart democracy," Oo says.

For decades, news, books, songs and other forms of expression had to be submitted to the country's censors.

That started to change in 2012, when regulations on the media began to loosen. Since then, young filmmakers like Oo are making their voices heard by bringing their cameras to the streets.

The documentary, "This Land is Our Land" is one of Tagu Films' major works. In it, 5 farmers speak out about land confiscation.

It's a major social problem that started under military rule, and farmers continue to suffer. The movie won the top documentary prize at an international human rights film festival.

"They are growing food that we eat. So to see them; having those challenges, we have a duty to at least showcase the problem," Oo says. "Even if problems like land confiscation or national peace is not achieved right away, the new government should listen to the people and acknowledge the people."

Oo's team focuses on the country's social problems, but they don't only stick to that. They also want to dig further into people's everyday lives to portray how they really are.

In one of Oo's latest films, the manager of a fish processing company runs his operation like a British soccer team. The humorous short film expresses young people's love for the game.

"Especially, in my short documentaries I try to explore families, small subjects, sometimes to have humor in life. It gives a fuller picture of life in Myanmar," Oo says.

Oo says he and his generation enjoy being able to express themselves more freely. But he adds there's still a long way to go until their work is openly embraced.

"We have daily journals and papers where we can write about the government," he says. "In terms of radio and TV, it's still controlled by the people who were close the previous military government. You won't see the kind of documentaries we make on national TV."

But that doesn't dampen Oo's drive. He says young filmmakers should keep producing.

"It's hard to consider myself the voice of the generation, but I do realize we are doing important work. I feel documentaries are very strong because the medium you are using is reality. There is no stronger message than showing what is actually happening," Oo says.

As Myanmar transitions, Oo hopes playing his films at international events will help bring more attention to his country's situation, and that that could become a driving force for a more democratic future.