By May Sandy
August 22 - 28, 2011
A painting by artist Khin Maung Yin, who is the subject of a documentary film by Lut Latt Eain.
THE lives of famous Myanmar painters have been put in the spotlight by local filmmakers keen to illustrate the artists’ passion for creativity, as well as their humble lifestyles.
“They are legends and their portfolios should be well-documented,” said Lut Latt Eain, owner of Pansodan Art Gallery and director of the film A Letter to Khin Maung Yin.
The documentary is based on a personal letter to painter Khin Maung Yin from Win Pe, who is renowned as one of Myanmar’s earliest contemporary artists.
In the film, which was screened last month at the British Council Library, Lut Latt Eain combined shots of Khin Maung Yin’s paintings with an informal interview with the artist about his approach to art.
“While I was planning the film I was inspired by Win Pe’s letter to Khin Maung Yin. It’s just a simple letter to a friend but the message was very powerful,” Lut Latt Eain said.
“When foreigners ask about Myanmar artists, they want to know about more than just their biographies, like what year they were born or which school they attended. They also want to know about their thoughts and ideas, and how they have influenced society,” he said.
A Letter to Khin Maung Yin follows in the footsteps of several other locally produced documentaries about Myanmar artists.
In 2008 film director Kyi Phyu Shin won the Best Short Award at the All Roads Film Festival in Los Angeles for her documentary A Sketch of Wathone, a personal look at the artist’s routine filmed in the final year of his life.
Wathone was famous for his comic Lin Gar Di Pa Chit Thu (Lovers of Lin Gar Di Pa Island) based on the original novel by author Chit Oo Nyo.
The film was created while Kyi Phyu Shin attended Yangon Film School (YFS) and was assigned to make a documentary about the life of an ordinary person.
“When I visited Wathone’s place, I saw a colourless house. I was amazed by the fact that a person who used paints for living lived in a house with no paint,” Kyi Phyu Shin said. “But at the front door was a sculpture of the head of an ogre, which is the symbol of his comic Lin Gar Di Par Chit Thu.”
She said she was inspired by the work of Wathone who, although famous, lived a modest lifestyle.
“There are a large number of lower-class people in our country, but my message is that being poor is not a sad thing. Living with no greed is very peaceful,” Kyi Phyu Shin said, citing one scene in the film in which Wathone says, “I love what I do, and it allows me to lead a good life. Many people have to do things to survive but their hearts aren’t in it.”
Kyi Phyu Shin added: “Local artists have some difficulties reaching a global audience, but as for their paintings, they have the same paints and the same canvas as everyone else. The rest is up to their imaginations.”
Also in 2008, another director from YFS, Shin Daewi, released the documentary An Untitled Life about the artist Rahula, who died last month from throat cancer.
Shin Daewi said she first met the artist at a tea shop in Mingun, about 11 kilometres up the Ayeyarwady River from Mandalay, in 2005, and was mesmerised by his intelligence and his passion for arts.
The director said she was keen to share her personal impression of the “modest and yet jovial life” of Rahula.
“I felt that somehow I was connected to him. Within 15 minutes I knew that one day I would come again and make a documentary about Rahula,” she said.
Shin Daewi spent a couple years researching the artist and made the documentary in 2008, with all the shooting done in Mingun.
“[Rahula] never said anything about becoming famous from his paintings or making a lot of money. He always named his paintings Untitled, which means he doesn’t want a bond in his life. That’s why I named the video An Untitled Life,” she said.
In the past two years the documentary has been shown at film festivals in South Korea, China, France and Germany.
“When I screen this film in other countries, I wanted to show the genuine lifestyle of a real Myanmar artist. The people who see the film don’t know Rahula but he represents all the other artists in Myanmar,” Shin Daewi said.
Myanmar Academy Award-winning actress Swe Zin Htike, who has also worked as a director and producer, said documentary films were an excellent format for raising awareness of Myanmar culture outside the country.
“I think documentary films are very effective because watching them is like witnessing the actual event. The combined audio and visual format can attract the interest of the audience, and they are also useful as reference sources for academics, as well as a good way to archive information,” she said.
Swe Zin Htike said she was sad to see Myanmar culture represented at international film festivals by foreign directors rather than by local filmmakers.
She also said that to promote the genre, a documentary category should be added to the annual Myanmar Academy Awards.