The Director and his drive to produce high-quality, international standard films

Photo - Phyo Thiha

“I don’t want my films come to an end only in Myanmar. They must not be targeted only at Myanmar. They need to be felt by the world.”

The film Kayan Beauties won the Special Jury Award, the highest acolade at the ASEAN International Film Festival and Awards (AIFFA) held in Kuchin, Sarawat, Malaysia in March 2013. At this festival, there were approximately 160 movies from ten ASEAN countries competing against each other. This film was the first one in Myanmar produced in HD technology and with Dolby Digital Surround EX sound system as well.

Prior to the release of the film, Thailand’s government had been encouraging Kayan (Padaung) nationals native to Kayah State and other eastern parts of Myanmar to earn money for tourism by featuring them on billboards in border areas such as Mae Hong Son Province, Chiang Mai and Chaing Rai where a lot of foreigners visit.

The billboard read, “Visit our village. We nationals welcome you warmly.”

However, after the release of Kayan Beauties film, those billboards were removed and the impact was that many Kayan nationals from those villages were encouraged to return to Myanmar. It was Director Aung Ko Latt who strived to preserve the existing ethnic tribe in Myanmar and made the world know that the Kayan tribe are only from Myanmar and not Thailand.

“I’m very delighted as Kayan Beauties became an honorable film both for the government and for the nation,” Aung Ko Latt told My Magical Myanmar.

Kayan Beauties has been an international in-flight movie on Taiwan International Airlines flights, and was screened 23 times at international film festivals around the world as well as being screened at invitation events between governments right up to 2017.

Aung Ko Latt is the son of veteran artist Aung Than Thit. His father was not only a prominent artist and designer in the Myanmar film world, but also a film director. Since he was seven years old, Aung Ko Latt helped with his father’s work and was developing his talent for movies since then. While thinking about how to make a living as a designer, he began a course studying music and went on to become a musician. At the age of thirteen, he began playing the guitar.

During the 1974 voting campaign in Lashio, his father had an accident and broke his leg and he had to step in and shoot the film named “Mwaybway Kha Paik Paik” (“Nourishing a Viper in your Bosom”). Additionally, when the leading actor was jailed on drug charges during filming, Aung Ko Latt was assigned to take over his role – now he was truly involved in every aspect of this movie.

“Father told me to do everything about this film from start to finish. I knew all about it and the ability was within me. He handed it over to me,” Aung Ko Latt said.

He managed to play the role of lead actor and to direct the shooting of the whole film single-handedly. Tin Moe Khine, who played the role of actress, would later become his wife. This film was truly successful according to Aung Ko Latt.

In 1978, at the request of respected director and cameraman Tun Hlaing, he shot the film “Ahtu Nay Me Pyaw De Maung” (“Darling Telling to Live Together”) together with actor Collegian Nay Win and actress K Jar Nu. After that, he lost contact with the film world and took delight instead in the music industry. He married Tin Moe Khine and had two children. In 1986, as he believe there was no freedom in socialist Myanmar, he went to Japan leaving his family behind.

Times were hard for him in Japan. He studied Japanese for four years from 1986 and earned money from doing odd jobs. He had to cut his costs so extremely that he could only make a phone call to his wife and children on their birthdays, on his own birthday, on Christmas Day and on their wedding anniversary.

“Other people could eat out at night, but I couldn’t. I had to consider eating nothing but mohinga for the week. The class fees and expenses were high,” he said.

Thanks to learning Japanese, he gained a good job as a floor manager in a company. There the turning point came in his life. His boss, who helped him with everything in Japan, happened to have previously worked as a cameraman, and thus he had a chance to observe a variety of cameras in his down time. With the assistance of his boss, he became a member of the Japanese Television Engineering Society and SINGLE 8 Cameraman Society. Owing to member discussions and exchanges of audio and visual ideas about films, Aung Ko Latt gained much knowledge about films.

In 1995, he came back to Myanmar with his boss’ blessing. When back in Yangon, Taunggyi Bishop Matahis U Shwe arranged a small room for him to use. He had only to contribute funds to the local orphanage. In this room he kept his collection of equipment and was able to start shooting documentary films and TV commercials.

On one occasion, he travelled for more than a month together with an Evangelist charity group which gave assistance in education and health to the orphans in Taunggyi, Moebye and southern Shan State. Aung Ko Latt was assigned to shoot and document it. The TV programme that he produced was broadcast on Myawaddy Television on Christmas Day 1995 and brought him to the attention of the public. This resulted in a wave of requests to shoot TV commercials,After that, at the invitation of the Kayan Literature and Culture Group, he visited an area in Kayah State with a small group including his brother, a keyboard player, to teach music. However he found that Kayan nationals had left for jobs in Thailand and the doors of the houses in the villages were all closed.

“It was this incident that brought grief. That’s why I was determined to create a film and make it known to the world. If not, the world would think Kayan nationals are from Thailand,” said Director Aung Ko Latt explaining how he came to produce this most famous of his films.
With his money saved earned from shooting advertisements, he shot Kayan Beauties in Kayah State and Taunggyi from 1st January to 1st April, 2008 together with his American friend script writer Hector Carosso.

He chose not to use big-name actors and actresses in order to show genuine Kayan traditions and language, Aung Ko Latt said.
Kayan Beauties also won Best Sound and Best Cinematography awards at the 56th Annual Myanmar Acadamy Awards ceremony on December 29, 2013. In 2015 with the support of Pyoe Pin programme under the aegis of British Council, he shot the TV series “The Sun, the Moon and the Truth” about real-life legal cases over eight episodes, aiming to promote rule of law and justice in the country. At the end of March 2018, a second series including ten episodes was completed.

Teaming up with the Japanese Society of Cinematographers-JSC at present, his company Aung Ko Latt Motion Pictures been preparing to create a film based on music to reach the international market. This movie, he believes, will surpass Kayan Beauties and go to international movie market. He has gotten his name of the list of reputable ASEAN directors thanks to Kayan Beauties, his very own creative art, Director Aung Ko Latt claims.

“I don’t want my films come to an end only in Myanmar. They must not be targeted only at Myanmar. They need to be felt by the world. Myanmar movies are understood and felt by Myanmar people. They are not accepted internationally. I want to create internationally-accepted films.”

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Aung Phay Kyi Soe is a Journalist who worked as Culture, Tourism, Environment and Health Reporter for five years at The Messenger, The Trade Times,DEMOCRACY Today, The Voice and Mawkun In-Depth and Investigative Magazine. He won the Best Feature Award for Climate Change Reporting supported by UN-Habitat and organized by Myanmar Journalism Institute.


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