Welcome to the 5th edition of MEMORY! International Film Heritage Festival! This year we are pleased to bring you an exceptional program on the topic of “Banned” cinema and will be joined by several very special guests, Patrons of the Festival Catherine Deneuve and Grace Swe Zin Htaik, together with Tsai Ming-liang, Lee Kang-sheng, Midi Z, Tan Pin Pin, and Eddie Cahyono. These remarkable filmmakers and actors will be introducing public screenings and will be engaging the audience in discussions throughout the festival.
Luis Buñuel’s Tristana (1970) is Catherine Deneuve’s contribution this year’s program. With this film, in which she plays the title character, Buñuel—an outspoken atheist and socialist—began to understand the difficulties in getting his films past the fascist Spanish censorship. Disillusioned by the experience, Buñuel eventually became one of those transnational auteurs who produced some of their most influential works abroad.
Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming-liang, probably the most internationally celebrated Malaysian filmmaker, is another such example. Few in his home country have seen his films, and Malaysian film authorities have not made it easy. I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (2006) was banned and then closely censored and recut before being permitted a limited run at select arthouse theatres. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2004) and Stray Dogs (2013) are features in which Tsai Ming-liang presents apocalyptic panoramas of society and explores the appeal of desolate eroticism. His more experimental arthouse work can be seen in the Walker Series (Journey to the West, 2014 and No No Sleep, 2015), where he dissects loneliness and social decay with disciplined detachment, together with his stoic, often mysterious leading man Lee Kang-sheng, whose minimalist acting corresponds perfectly to the director’s storylines. The relationship between actor and director is exposed in great detail in the self-portrait Afternoon (2015), while a different perspective on Tsai Ming-liang is offered by Saw Tiong Guan in Past Present (2013), a biographical documentary about the director which includes interviews with some of his closest colleagues and associates. Saw Tiong Guan is also a presenter at the conference on Censorship and Film accompanying the festival.
Myanmar-born director Midi Z is also based in Taiwan. His films were not allowed to screen publicly in Myanmar until last year, when MEMORY! programmed his latest opus, Road To Mandalay (2016), to a packed theatre. This year we are pleased to bring you Ice Poison (2014), a critically acclaimed film about drug trafficking across the Myanmar-China border. Midi Z will replace Michel Hazanavicius as this year’s president of the Myanmar Script Fund, a satellite event launched in 2016, which provides workshops and funding to young Myanmar filmmakers.
Hailing from Singapore, documentary filmmaker Tan Pin Pin is no stranger to having her work meddled with. To Singapore, with Love (2013), winner of several top documentary prizes, was banned in Singapore, creating a heated debate about free speech. Audiences will also have a chance to see her outstanding documentaries Invisible City (2007) and In Time to Come (2017), as well as to attend her presentation at the conference.
Eddie Cahyono’s Siti (2014) is a raw and uncompromising depiction of poverty, which is perhaps the reason it has been kept from even a limited run in arthouse theatres by the conservative Indonesian censorship. Included in this section of the program are Leaf on a Pillow (1998) and Whispering Sands (2001), two films that the Indonesian director has found particularly inspiring.
Myanmar Film Treasures
Premiering this year is the newly-restored version of My Darling (Pyo Chit Lin, 1950), directed by Tin Myint, a project undertaken by MEMORY! Cinema Association in collaboration with the Asian Film Archive. This is another of the precious few classics of the Burmese screen that are still in existence. Myanmar Director U Kyi Soe Tun had been very fortunate to receive the sole surviving copy of the film elements from Tin Myint’s family, thanks which a full restoration project was possible. Starring major actors of the 1950s, Pho Par Gyi, Pho Par Lay, Kyu Kyu, this comedy reflects the vibrant local movie industry at the time. The film was shot in colour, but silent. The soundtrack will be provided by live musicians, as was customary when the film was originally released. In addition, after the immensely successful presentation last year of another restored Myanmar classic, The Emerald Jungle (Mya Ga Naing, dir. Tin Maung, 1934) is back by popular demand. We also invite you to a special screening of Bo Cartoon by U Thaddu, which will be presented by the director’s grandson, Okkar Maung (who was also a finalist in last year’s Myanmar Script Fund). Bo Cartoon has yet to be restored.
Main Program: Banned Films
There are various kinds of censorship, and many reasons why films never reach the public. State censorship seeks to defend national interests; censorship of the market grants or denies access based on commercial promise; technological censorship is determined by scientific development and access to new technologies; and then there are more populist forms of censorship and moral policing purporting to protect cultures, customs, and identities from social or ideological contamination. Censorship continues to be the currency of contemporary culture, and regulation is often the first response to new conditions. This year’s focus on Banned Films sketches out censorship trends across time, which have regulated both the creation of content as well as access to that content by viewers since the invention of cinema.
The program follows two principal trajectories: Political and Social. The Political trajectory includes films that touch on the World Wars, the Communist regime, colonialism, and the Cold War, while the Social trajectory concerns issues of representation, moral outrage, religious and cultural conflicts.
- The World Wars: At a time when the world was gearing up for conflict, All quiet on the western front (1930) was banned almost everywhere for “spouting anti-war, pacifist propaganda.” Contrariwise, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945) was banned by the Allies due to its portrayal of Japanese warrior resolve. Hitler was briefly a fan of Charles Chaplin, but flew into an outrage at The Great Dictator (1940) and had the film banned in every country sympathetic to the Nazis, including several countries in Latin America.
- Communism: Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) was banned at various times in the United States, France, the UK, and even in its native Soviet Union. Abroad it was feared that the film might generate sympathies for communism, while in the USSR there was a fear it might incite riots against Stalin’s regime. Several other films deal with the darker sides of communism that are today all too easily forgotten: The Rabbit Is Me (1965), The Firemen’s Ball (1967), Z (1969), and The Witness (1969) were all banned for being anti-socialist, pessimistic, and revisionist attacks on the State.
- Colonialism: Statues Also Die (1953) was critical of cultural colonialism and appropriation, a topic that French censors found problematic at the time and therefore banned the film. The Little Soldier (1960) ran into trouble with French censorship because of its allusions to the situation in Algeria and its denunciation of the use of force by both sides.
- The Cold War: The official reason for banning The War Game (1965) from television broadcast was for excessive violence and depictions of human suffering, but it may have also been that the film went against the official government line concerning the survivability of nuclear attack.
- Representation: Carnival in Flanders (1935) was banned in Belgium for the way it portrayed the Flemish community. Kuhle Wampe (1932) was banned because it depicted German society, the leadership, the legal system, and religion in unflattering ways.
- Morality: Different from the Others (1919) was banned after a year, allowing it to be shown only to doctors and lawyers as a case-study of sexual deviancy. The Nazis eventually destroyed all prints and only one copy of the film is known to have survived. Indignant moralists condemned the surrealist love story L’âge d’or (1930) for attempting to corrupt the public both visually and spiritually. Peeping Tom (1960) was banned in Finland for excessive violence and its portrayal of sociopathic behaviour.
- Religion: Andrei Rublev (1966) was banned in the USSR for its portrayal of religious themes. Ben-Hur (1959) and Persepolis (2007) were banned in the Arab world, one for being pro-Israeli and the other for being disrespectful of Iran and of Islam.
Alongside the main theme, the festival pays special tribute to timeless classics, many of them recently restored, which have left a lasting trace in the imagination of viewers worldwide, and which continue to inspire filmmakers.
Jacques Tati, creator of the lovably bumbling comedic character Monsieur Hulot, inspired a style of visual comedy that was part slapstick and part social critique. Capturing the growing obsession with modernization and consumerism, Tati expressed anxieties about the isolating effect of cities transformed by technology and ultra-modern design, which rendered social relationships synthetic and superficial. His films are intriguing and uniquely entertaining, exploring themes of technology, commercialization, and the rise of consumer society with a deftly humorous touch. Tati was born in France of Russian lineage, a natural athlete who completed military service, had a semi-professional rugby career, and became a performance artist before serving again during the Second World War. After the war he resumed his work as a cabaret entertainer and appeared in several films before launching his own company Cady-Films, together with producer Fred Orain. We are pleased to bring you four recently restored Tati classics: The Big Day (1947), Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953), Mon Oncle (1958, Best Foreign Language Film Oscar), and PlayTime (1967). Throughout these films we see the character of Monsieur Hulot take shape: an awkward, pipe-smoking, raincoat-wearing persona whose unassuming theatricality inevitably leads to hilariously catastrophic adventures.
The feel-good movie selection of Frank Capra classics includes some of the most successful American films from the 1930s and ‘40s, including Oscar winners It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Mr. Smith goes to Washington (1939), and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). The restored and remastered versions of these films allow us to experience Capra’s style anew; his unobtrusive, naturalistic rhythm and improvisatory interaction between actors. Capra’s themes explore the wholesome goodness of human nature, the value of selflessness and hard work, and a feel-good celebration of the common man. Born in Italy, Capra was raised in working-class Los Angeles, which made his personal story of success a personification of the American dream. During World War II, Capra served in the U.S. Army Signals Corps and produced propaganda films, notably the Why We Fight series, but in the years following he became a pacifist and was openly critical of the Vietnam War. Using his celebrity status, he was unafraid to express himself in the idealized spirit of Western individualism, and his films reflected an idealized America that only he could imagine, where courage always triumphed over evil.
StudioCanal has one of the largest film libraries in the world. Situated in France, this production and distribution company’s catalogue offers a long list of critically acclaimed international features and box office hits. Mandy (dir. Alexander Mackendrick, 1952), Quai des Orfèvres (dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1947) and The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols, 1967) were great successes and their production and reception histories mention little about the difficulties associated with producing studio features of that calibre. Though these films broke new ground when it came to issues of sexuality, infidelity, or disability, others have had a difficult time reaching the public. While not banned or censored in any strict sense, the remaining films in this section bear witness to some of the serious obstacles filmmakers encounter during the process of bringing a script to screen. For instance, The King and the Mockingbird (dir. Paul Grimault, 1980) is regarded today as an animation masterpiece, but it took nearly 30 years to complete due to conflicts of interest with the film’s producer. Equally, as one of the most iconoclastic and original directors working today, David Lynch has frequently met with producers’ opposition to his unorthodox artistic vision. Discounted as an incoherent dreamtime freakfest, Mulholland Drive (dir. David Lynch, 2001) was conceived as a TV pilot for a potential series, but when television executives rejected it, Lynch turned the project into a feature film, making it one of the greatest works of contemporary surrealism.
The Special Screenings section features films from three very special festival affiliates: the Asian Film Archive (AFA), the Yangon Film School (YFS) and Gaumont. Ring of Fury (dir. Tony Yeow & James Sebastian, 1973), Provided by the Asian Film Archive (AFA), was banned in its home country for over 20 years because of its portrayal of gangsterism and vigilante self-defence during a time when Singapore was asserting itself as a modern state with effective law enforcement. Filmmakers Yeow and Sebastian saw it as their duty to act as the social conscience of the times, by contrasting popular aspiration and resilience—personified on-screen by eighth-dan world class karate master Peter Chong—with the deliberate complacency of a corrupt police force. The Asian Film Archive is a central institution in the preservation of Southeast Asia’s film heritage, and was instrumental in the restoration of My Darling (1950, in the Myanmar Film Treasures section).
Sunrise (dir. Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1927) is perhaps not an example of a formally banned or censored film, but nonetheless, for many decades the film was unavailable to the public due to what may be called the censorship of technological progress. It was not until the 1990s, some sixty years after its initial release, that the film was deemed significant enough to undergo preservation, and another decade would pass before it was issued onto an accessible format.
The last film in this section, Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941), was entangled in scandal and controversy from the beginning, and in spite of numerous awards (including an Oscar for best original screenplay), it would hound Welles for the rest of his career. Citizen Kane, one of the most watched and studied films in the history of filmmaking, was based on the real-life figure of William Randolph Hearst, a publishing magnate. Hearst was so enraged that he banned all mention of the film throughout his considerable media empire, confirming Welles’ commentary in the film about the vast the power and influence held by news and media corporations. Citizen Kane and Sunrise are presented as part of a Myanmar subtitling project undertaken by the Yangon Film School, with the financial support of the Goethe Institute.
Concluding the selection is Daïnah la métisse (dir. Jean Grémillon. 1932), a Gaumont presentation. Established by French engineer and inventor Léon Gaumont in 1895, the Gaumont Film Company is the first and the oldest in the world, boasting nearly a thousand films in its impressive catalogue. Gaumont’s partnership with Memory! began last year, with an exhibition commemorating the 120-year long history of the company. This history is inextricably linked to the story of the moving image: this is where the industry’s first female director, Alice Guy-Blaché, began her career; Gaumont British produced Alfred Hitchcock’s early work; the company has persevered through the Great Depression, two world wars, technological and aesthetic revolutions, spurred back into production by the French New Wave movement, and proceeding to embrace transnational partnerships, cutting-edge technologies and global distribution methods. Daïnah la métisse is a brilliantly restored French classic from the 1930s, and was without a doubt ahead of its time both in narrative and aesthetic terms.
In the present times of economic, social, and political volatility, we can look at the past and compare: how were such issues coped with in previous decades? How do the banned or censored films of the past contribute to on-going debates about society and modernity? If new technologies and new media spark old anxieties, what might we learn from the media of the past, from its confrontations with official legislation and social codes?
As film and other media of the past demonstrate, many important intellectual and artistic movements have developed under censorship in various countries over the years. In this sense, the conference will also explore how censorship has influenced cultural production and the creative process. How do we negotiate film and media under the enduring presence of various forms of censorship and rugged political environments?
A first of its kind in Myanmar, this interdisciplinary conference aims to explore the idea of film censorship in a broad cultural context, inviting connections between various forms of censorship and across historical circumstances. We open the floor to Myanmar-based and international presenters to join us in addressing this topic from a variety of perspectives including case studies, theoretical investigations, problem-oriented arguments, and comparative analyses.
Journalism & Culture Program
Text to come
Maha Bandula Park Screenings
We have selected some of the finest heritage classics for a very special series of public open-air screenings. It wasn’t long ago that such events were not authorized, which is what makes the screenings at Maha Bandula Park a unique experience for many, and a major cultural event in Yangon. The public will have a chance to see Franck Capra’s feel-good family drama It’s a Wonderful Life (1946); The Great Dictator (1940, subtitled in Myanmar), in which the comedy genius of Charles Chaplin takes over the world; My Darling (Pyo Chit Lin, 1950), a freshly restored Myanmar classic; and lastly, four clowning shorts starring the “great stone face” of Buster Keaton.
Memory! extends a special thanks to the municipal authorities of the city of Yangon, for their invaluable support in enabling us to bring these classics to the public.
I Have a Dream
Maha Bandula Park – November 4th and 5th
This program for disfranchised kids has been designed by the MEMORY! Cinema Association along with the Shakespeare School and Myanmar Mobile Education (myME). Over the course of two days, youngsters aged from 8 to 14 will be introduced to film making and coached to create their first short film around the theme “I have a dream”. The films will be shot with phones and screened on the giant outdoor screen in Maha Bandula Park on Monday, November 6th.
Text to come