A new era begins for Myanmar

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Life is back to normal in Thailand after the Bangkok Flood of 2011—thank goodness!
And over in Myanmar (formerly Burma), with the new initiative by President Obama’s government to establish relations with the country which has been a pariah nation for over 50 years, there is hope for the future.

To update you on Myanmar’s history, British rule (1886–1948) brought several social, economic, cultural and administrative changes that completely transformed the once-feudal society. Since independence in 1948, the country has been in one of the world’s longest-running civil wars, among myriad ethnic groups. The conflict remains unresolved. From 1962 to 2011, the country was under military rule, and in the process has become one of the least developed nations in the world. The military junta was dissolved in 2011 following a general election in 2010 and a civilian government installed. General elections were held under the new constitution in 2010.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar on Dec. 1 to encourage further progress in democratization, the first visit by a Secretary of State in more than 50 years. Clinton met with Burmese president Thein Sein as well as opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

What most people don’t know is that Myanmar is the 40th-largest country in the world and the second-largest in Southeast Asia. Myanmar is also the 24th most populous country in the world with over 58.8 million people. And it has a thriving film industry.

However, as one State Department representative said about opening diplomatic and economic relations, “Probably the two countries in Asia that we know the least about in terms of how they make decisions, the machinations that take place behind the scenes, would be North Korea and Burma."

So what does this mean for those in the international entertainment industry? Interesting question, since BTF (Before the Flood), back in June, I received an e-mail from U Myint Soe, a prominent director, producer and member of the Myanmar Film Council, asking if I was aware of anyone who wanted to invest in their industry.

Myint Soe wrote: “We have learned that our new government is going to revise the existing investment laws to attract foreign investors to invest in our country. We are waiting for that new development. The new investment laws will include a clause where foreign investors can take away all their money and profit after tax. We believe they will state the exchange rate of the kyat into U.S. dollars.

“For your information, on the production end, it costs US$125,000 (exchange rate 1 US$ = 800 kyat) to make a feature film here: US$187,000 to produce with (Burmese) superstars. If the film is successful, the investor will net a profit between US$250,000 and $312,500.
“As for the exhibition industry, there are only a few good movie houses in two big cities, Yangon and Mandalay. There are no nice movie theaters with modern equipment in other big cities. Ticket prices vary from one theater to another. Here, people like mostly comedies because of hardships in their daily life.

“Do you know anyone who is willing to produce films and build movie theaters in Myanmar? Or anyone who is interested in other kinds of business in Myanmar?”

If Myanmar is to build a modern economy, it will need businesses from around the world to start investing in the country. However, rule of law and transparency in economic transactions are staples for international business to flourish.

From previous conversations with Myint Soe and other Burmese business people, I know that movie theatre equipment is being purchased in Singapore and then shipped to Myanmar (or purchased directly in the USA and shipped to Singapore to get around the embargo and then forwarded to Myanmar). So if the Obama initiative helps open business doors a little wider, those in our industry should benefit greatly.

Anyone interested in getting in touch with U Myint Soe and other Burmese business people should contact me here in Bangkok and I will gladly help make introductions.

MPA, China Copyright Expo Host Film Workshop

Emerging filmmakers from across the Asia-Pacific region were chosen by their local communities to join their Chinese counterparts at the MPA-CICE Film Workshop in Beijing, Dec. 1-3.

The Workshop, presented by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) Asia-Pacific and the China International Copyright Expo (CICE), aimed to provide a master class on a range of contemporary topics related to filmmaking, film marketing, film distribution and co-production opportunities between China and the international community. The Workshop also endeavored to provide an opportunity for filmmakers to develop their careers, build networks and potentially collaborate on new projects.

The successful filmmakers were selected by their local communities through various film-related competitions and evaluation exercises conducted by some of the region’s leading film practitioners and institutions.

Mike Ellis, the MPA’s president and managing director, Asia-Pacific, said: “I congratulate all of the filmmakers from the region who have impressed their local communities with their aptitude and creativity and thereby secured a place at the Workshop. Our film master class is a tremendous opportunity to engage with international film practitioners—to share current trends, volunteer new ideas and participate in constructive debate. China is an exciting frontier for filmmakers, and a contemporary stage for bold and enterprising visions.”
CICE is the premier international copyright industry forum and trade show in China, held annually since 2008. In 2012, the Expo will be focused on the promotion and protection of film and television content.

The MPA Asia-Pacific has hosted film workshops since 2006, providing stepping stones for emerging filmmakers to develop their careers. In 2006, breakthrough filmmaker Xue Xiaolu participated in the Workshop, won the pitching competition, and landed the opportunity to travel to the U.S. to meet with studio executives. Last year, her film Ocean Heaven, starring Jet Li, produced by Bill Kong and photographed by Christopher Doyle, opened the Shanghai International Film Festival, and Xue Xiaolu was named Emerging Talent of the Year at CineAsia, the region’s premier movie convention in Hong Kong.

A happy, healthy, safe (and dry) New Year to all!

Contact Scott Rosenberg with relevant news stories at prdivision@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @scott_cos.