On a quest to take Myanmar’s film industry to new heights
FEW people would have thought it likely that a young IT technician working in Singapore would turn out to be one of the driving forces in Myanmar’s film industry today. But this is exactly what happened to famed local director Arkar
When Arkar was working in Singapore, he just couldn’t resist going to movie theaters during his free time. But he felt dismayed that while he was able to watch films made in neighbouring countries in the region, there were none from Myanmar.
It saddened and agitated him that there were few, if any, Myanmar films that were screened in other countries. It was these feelings that compelled him to enter the local film industry.
As they say, luck favours the bold. Arkar’s daring decision to completely switch career directions paid off and he is now on the way to soaring to greater heights as one of the country’s most prominent directors who has been turning out movies that have gained strong support from movie fans.
An information technology expert by profession, Arkar’s main hobby is photography and he capitalised on this to jumpstart his entry into the movie industry. His knowledge of lighting as well as special effects proved invaluable in his career as a film director.
He started out making travel videos and then ventured into music videos for his younger brother who is a singer. Bit by bit his work began to get noticed not only by his family and friends but by the wider public. This gave him more confidence in his skills and in 2012, he established the Arkar Production.
He was just 23 years old then and not born to a family related to the small world of the country’s film industry, nor familiar with the workings of the advertising industry. All he had was courage and raw talent and an impressive portfolio.
Soon companies began to warm up to him and gave him advertising contracts to shoot their commercials or promotional videos.
“As a 23-year-old youth I had to work hard to be entrusted with jobs that were worth hundreds of thousands of kyat and important to businesses. I tried much harder to get the trust of the bosses compared to those who have established names in the industry. Sometimes, I had to shoot samples of commercials and sometimes I did it free of charge,” he recalled.
His tenacity and talent eventually got him going and business owners were impressed with his work. But it was after shooting a commercial for Asia Wings Airline that the movie industry opened its door for him and he received a lot of offers to venture into movie directing.
Arkar said the movie industry is a totally different world compared to shooting commercials.
A film director works with many people to shoot a one-and-a-half hour or two-hour movie. After the shooting, there is the post-production work to ensure that the K200 million to K300 million film is fit to be shown to the public. The movie has to be kept away from the prying eyes of the public until it is shown in theatres. There is also the need to consider the demands of the market before the film is finally screened.
“Commercial and music videos are well-known as they get lots of screen time and publicity. However, in film, we have to keep it under wraps until it is shown. We can only heave a sigh of relief only after it is shown. The film Mystery of Burma started filming in 2016 and was shown only this year. I couldn’t sleep well for about two years,” he said.
Jeffery Mitchell, the older brother of former US ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell, happened to see travel videos made by Arkar and was inpired to create a movie with the beautiful scenery of Myanmar, which resulted in the movie Mystery of Burma. Arkar found someone in Myanmar who wanted to establish a new film production company in 2016 and finance the film with Arkar as director.
Although he loves the images, colours, sound and music used in Mystery of Burma, Arkar confessed the story was made to appeal commercially.
“Some artists said it was just a business move and not an artistic endevour, but, film buffs in Myanmar recognised that it was different from other ordinary local movies,” he said.
Containing scenes in settings that were technically challenging to create, the movie received good feedback when it was screened in Singapore and also made a decent profit when it was screened in local theatres. It is also expected to be screened in Thailand soon.
Arkar conceded that Mystery of Burma was created just for entertainment and he doesn’t expect any awards for it.
He says he thinks Myanmar’s movie tastes have changed since 2016 and audiences now carefully choose the movies they watch. He also thinks that a movie with a good storyline can be more successful now than in the past. Examples of such movies include Moneswal and Mi, where experienced actors worked with a new generation of directors.
“In two or three years, Myanmar movies will get significantly better. The new generation of actors, screenwriters, directors and others involved
‘The new generation of actors, screenwriters, directors and others involved in the industry are more adventurous while the veterans have good ideas and experience …The combination makes good results.’