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Burmese director Na Gyi will not be attending the Oldenburg Film Festival for the world premiere of his new film What Happened to the Wolf? Neither will Paing Phyo Thu, who stars in the film and is Na Gyi’s real-life partner. The reason: both remain in hiding in their country, on the run from the military junta who seized control of Myanmar earlier this year.
Na Gyi’s new film is a touching melodrama about two very different women who meet and fall in love while patients at a hospital for the terminally ill. The theme of a gay couple is still a radical one in Myanmar, where LGBTQ+ people face legal persecution and violence, often encouraged by the state.
But that’s not why Na Gyi and Paing Phyo Thu are in hiding. After their participation in protests against the coup — Paing Phyo Thu, one of Myanmar’s most successful actresses, had been offering financial help to striking staff who have given up their jobs to take part in the country’s growing civil disobedience movement — the new military regime ordered their arrest, accusing them and other artists of using their celebrity status to oppose the coup. Eaindra Kyaw Zin, the other main lead in What Happened to the Wolf?, was arrested on similar charges and remains in prison.
Na Gyi spoke to The Hollywood Reporter from an undisclosed location via the encrypted Signal messaging app ahead of his film’s world premiere in Oldenburg on Thursday. The trailer for What Happened to the Wolf?, posted on the Oldenburg FIlm Festival Facebook Page, has already gone viral, with more than a million views to date.
How are you and your wife, Paing Phyo Thu, doing? Without revealing any details of your location, can you tell me if you are still in hiding and how you are living now?
Yes, we are still in hiding. We are just about OK. We can bear the poor conditions of food and shelter. The real challenge is to keep mentally strong because it is so depressing. It’s been over seven months now, and every day all we hear and see is destruction and misery. It’s like there is no future.
Why did you go into hiding and how dangerous is your current situation?
We went into hiding because, after our participation in anti-coup movements, the Myanmar military issued an arrest warrant for us and our colleges. We could have been arrested and put in prison for an indefinite time.
What is it about your film that is offensive to the military junta? Will it be shown in Myanmar?
The military junta issued a new law a few months back which states that broadcasting stations and cinemas are not allowed to show or broadcast the works of wanted artists who were involved in anti-coup activities. That includes movies, music, TV series, TV commercials, etc. They even took down the commercial billboards featuring my wife. So no, my film will not be shown in Myanmar as long as the military junta remains in power.
What do you hope to achieve by showing the film at the Oldenburg Film Festival?
We just want some recognition. That is all.
What’s been the response to posting the trailer of the film online? Will you release the film online for audiences in Myanmar?
The response has been good. People are encouraging us to stay strong. I believe films are meant to be seen in cinemas. Maybe I’m old school. At the moment, I don’t have plans to release the film online.
How hopeful are you that outside pressure can push the Myanmar government to change its stance and allow you and your wife to come out of hiding?
I’m not very hopeful about that. The Myanmar people are on our own.
What do you know of the fate of your colleagues, especially Eaindra Kyaw Zin?
Not very much. Two of the actors from my film, Aung Myint Myat and Kyaw Htet Aung, are also in hiding. As for Eaindra Kyaw Zin, we only know that she has been detained unfairly since April. We just hope that she is safe and sound.
You can check out the trailer for What Happened to the Wolf? below.
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