Twilight Over Burma: Myanmar censors pull film from festival

By Jonah Fisher
BBC News, Yangon

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The festival is screening a number of human rights-focussed films, in Yangon

The organisers of a human rights film festival in Myanmar have blamed the military for preventing them from showing a controversial film.

Twilight Over Burma, which depicts the relationship between a Shan prince and an Austrian woman, was pulled from the opening night on Tuesday.

The invited audience in Yangon was told censors thought it damaged the army's image and national reconciliation.

The army still wields huge influence despite Myanmar's civilian government.

It is guaranteed at least 25% of the seats in parliament, controls key parts of the economy and built the civil service to service its interests over five decades of military rule.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi inherited a parliament and a civil service full of military appointees

Speaking to the BBC, the Film Classification Board's deputy director general Daw Thida Tin said the film had been banned for the sake of "national unity and also the stability of the country and of our people".

Organisers say they were also told that the censors saw the film as damaging to the image of the army.

Censorship of print media was lifted as part of a series of democratic reforms in the last few years in Myanmar (also called Burma), but films still have to be approved by the censor board. It is part of Myanmar's Ministry of Information but its decisions do not need the minister's approval.

Twilight Over Burma tells the true story of an Austrian woman Inge Eberhard (now Sargent) who fell in love and married a Burmese prince from the Shan ethnic group.

The film shows how their exotic life in the hills of Shan State is destroyed by Burma's military coup of 1962. Ms Eberhard's husband Sao Kya Seng ends up being detained by the army before dying in mysterious circumstances.

Mon Mon Myat the director of the festival said the decision showed the new government was "new wine but in the old bottles" - a reference to the limits on the power of the government lead by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Replying rapidly to news stories is not one of the elected administration's strengths.

Zaw Htay, one of Ms Suu Kyi's spokesmen, told the BBC he was unaware of the story and referred us to the information minister, who did not answer his phone.

Festival organisers say they believe the Minister Pe Myint sought unsuccessfully to have the Classification Board review its decision.