Fighting drugs with film

Lin Lin Khaing

Among the local entries submitted to the Third Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival, ethnic filmmaker Mai Ah Nway (Ta’ang Chitthu)’s short titled “A Buffalo Boy” grabbed both the Min Ko Naing  and Hanthawady U Win Tin Awards. In this exclusive interview with Myanmar Eleven, he recalls the urge to portray blatant human right violations and the scourge of drugs in Shan State’s Ta’ang area in in his film.

How did you start studying about filmmaking?

I started learning filmmaking from a local wedding cameraman and photographer in the countryside. When Sayar Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s Human Dignity Institute invited applications, I jumped at it. I was selected for the documentary making workshop. Last year, I madea film titled “Traveller” with my fellow classmates. This year, it’s “A Buffalo Boy”.

What inspired “A Buffalo Boy”?

This is a true story based on a first-hand account of what happened as given by my aunt. She witnessed cases of domestic violence that ended up with flying rice pots and saucepans. When I heard about this incident, I started taking note of at least two incidents involving human rights violations. When a husband is a drug addict, his madness weighs heavily on his wife. His child’s rights are prone to being violated. That’s why I made this short.

Tell us about casting.

It began with a frantic search for people who matched up with the characters. The man who playsthe drug addict works for an anti-drug organisation. That’s why I picked him. I selected a woman in the neighbourhood to play the wife. The child is from my first short. That’s why I chose him again.

Any difficulties during the filming?

We have been hearing more about human rights only in recent years. In our Ta’ang area, they don’t understand it. It is beyond their scope of understanding. The boyfriend of the woman who playsthe mother in this film decided to stop her from filming any more scenes.He reckoned that that it was a political film and it could be dangerous for her if she acted in this kind of film. I tried to explain to her but she refused to stay on. It took six months [to convince her]. It was very difficult for me. As the film was already being made, I needed to have her in the film. I went to see her several times to explain to her that the film is about human rights and it would not pose any threats to her. Finally, she agreed to continue filming. That was my biggest difficulty.

Is it hard to get a message across to viewers through a short film?

It’s a little difficult. I have filmed many scenes so editing was quite difficult. My friends from the film class gave me a helping hand.

How do you feel after winning two awards for this film?

I’ve never expected to win an award since I started making this film. I want drugs to be eliminated in our area. We have also been helping as much as I can [in the way of drug eradication]. We hand over drug users to police or impose fines and punishment on them in the village. I don’t feel extremely happy for winning the awards. I’m satisfied as long as people are aware of the human rights violations. 

Any plans to submit this film to international [film festivals]?

I will need to consult with Sayar Min Htin [Ko Ko Gyi]. I live in the countryside so I don’t understand it quite well. I will consult with him and think about submitting it when I geta chance.

What will be your next film?

Actually, I like making documentaries. As I didn’t have any projects [to work on], I ended up doing a short film. If I could have filmed this as a documentary it would have been more interesting to include interviews with some local women and activists working towards drug eradication.