Burma's first film was a recording of the funeral of U Tun Shein - a leading politician of the 1910s, who campaigned for Burmese independence in London. It was captured with a second-hand camera by U Ohn Maung and was screened at the Royal Cinema, near Scott Market (now Bogyoke Market), which belonged to a Mr Achar, a friend of U Ohn Maung. Despite its documentary nature, the Burmese public was very proud of the film, which opened with the notice "Please accept our apologies for the poor quality of the film".
U Ohn Maung then founded The Burma Film Company to produce and direct more films. He hired U Nyi Pu (Burma's first actor) to shoot the first Burmese silent film Myitta Nit Thuyar (Love and Liquor) which proved a major success, despite its poor quality due to a fixed camera position and inadequate film accessories. The film opened with the title "Burma Film Presents: Love and Liquor" but there were no credits or mention of the cast. It was based on a story by P Moe Nin about how gambling and alcohol destroyed a man's life. The day the film premiered, October 13, 1920, is commemorated annually as Myanmar Movie Day.
During the 1920s and 1930s, many Burmese-owned film companies (such as A1, New Burma, British Burma, The Imperial, Bandoola and Yan Gyi Aung) made and produced several films. Some of the famous directors of this era were Nyi Pu,U Sunny, Toke Kyi, and Tin Pe.
The first Burmese sound film was produced in 1932 in Bombay, India with the title Ngwe Pay Lo Ma Ya (Money Can't Buy It) and directed by Toke Kyi. Films dealing with social issues and political themes became popular in the 1930s. Parrot Film Company produced films that addressed social issues such as gambling and police corruption, although the films were censored by the British colonial government. There were also films that were banned like Dou Daung Lan (Our Peacock Flag) in 1936 and Aung Thabyay (The Triumphant Jambul) in 1937. The political film Boycott was directed by the student leader Ko Nu in 1937 and starred other student leaders such as Aung San and Htun Ohn. The censors allowed this film to be shown.
Many of the films from this era no longer exist due to the lack of adequate preservation.
After World War II, Burmese cinema continued to address political themes. Many of the films produced in the early Cold War era had a strong propaganda element to them. The film Palè Myetyay (Tear of Pearl), produced in the wake of the Kuomintang invasion of Burma in the 1950s, highlighted the importance of the armed forces or Tatmadaw to the country. Ludu Aung Than (The People Win Through) featured anti-Communist propaganda. The script was written by U Nu who served as Prime Minister during the 1950s.
The famous film maker and author U Thu Kha started producing films during this period. His most famous film is Bawa Thanthaya (The Life Cycle). Burma held its first Academy Awards in 1952. Starting with the Socialist era in 1962, there was strict censorship and control of film scripts.
The actor Kyaw Hein became the most well-known Burmese actor.
In the era that followed the political events of 1988, the film industry has been increasingly controlled by the government. After the 1989 move by the government to open up the economy, the movie industry was privatized. The film company Mingalar became the most powerful company in the industry. Film stars who had been involved in the political activities of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Aung Lwin and Tun Wai, were banned from appearing in films. The films of some directors such as Win Pe have also been banned. The government issues strict rules on censorship and largely determines who produces films, as well as who gets academy awards.
Over the years, the movie industry has also shifted to producing many lower budget films that are distributed cheaply as video tapes and CDs. These serve as substitutes for the lack of television and cable broadcasting in Burma.
Most of the movies produced nowadays are comedies.
The novel Thway (Blood) by Ma Ma Lei was also made into a film in a joint Japanese-Burmese production during the last decade.
Kyi Soe Tun is a veteran filmmaker has who has made 34 movies in his 25-year career and who also served as the chairman of the Myanmar Motion Picture Organization. Now the chairman of the Myanmar Motion Picture Organization is U Myint Thein Pe.
History of Burmese Film by the Burmese Film Association.