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Publication Date : 25-04-2013
Myanmar filmmaker's debut feature explores the exploitation of Kayan women
One of Myanmar’s up-and-coming filmmakers, Aung Ko Latt is saddened by the tribulations of ethnic minority groups in his homeland. Planning his first feature film five years ago, Latt knew right away his subject was to be found somewhere in the highlands of Shan State, home to a multitude of tribal communities.
It was a gamble but he decided it was worth it: a film that depicts commercial exploitation of Shan’s tribal peoples and the scourge of human trafficking that comes with it.
At last month’s Asean Film Festival, which was held in Malaysia, Latt’s first film Kayan Beauties won the Special Jury Award on the back of two nominations: Best Director of Photography and Best Supporting actress.
His victory looks set to catapult Myanmar cinema to international recognition.
"I am very happy for myself and for all my brothers who worked for this film. I'm happy for the Kayan race. We were able to show what we wanted. Also, I am especially happy for the Myanmar film industry. I expect to see many high quality films like ours or even better than us.”
Kayan Beauties, Myanmar’s first HD film and Latt’s directorial debut, is a gritty portrayal of the Kayan “long-necked” tribe, aka Padaung. It centres on the lives of three Kayan women that are inextricably interwoven on their journey to search for a kidnapped Kayan girl who has victim to cross-border human trafficking in Thailand.
The Kayan, famous for their “giraffe necks” stretched by wearing golden rings, are often seen as victims of exploitation in neighbouring Thailand’s booming tourism. Latt tries to increase public awareness of the issue through his film.
"I want to show to the world that they [the Kayan tribe] are originally from Myanmar, not from any other country," said Latt, adding: “My second purpose is to show that the Myanmar film industry has the capacity to create top-quality movies worthy of screening overseas," he explains.
Myanmar cinema would be more acceptable internationally if there were more quality and greater investment – and no censorship, he adds.
Though hooked on the Kayans' striking feminine beauty and unique cultural identity, scriptwriter Hector Carosso needed to play down the Kayan’s visual appearances and highlight the human angle of the story. He made further cuts at the behest of the censorship board. "If Kayan Beauties hadn’t been censored, it’d be a very different movie," he says.
Five years in the making and post-production in Bangkok, Kayan Beauties premiered in Nay Pyi Taw last year. Due to cinema shortages, the film has never been screened elsewhere in the country despite a screening in Singapore for the Myanmar audience last November.
"Now with Kayan Beauties in the Asean Film Festival, we have more opportunities in other festivals," said Carosso. “We are still hoping for the film to go into the international market," said Latt.