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Interview with Sein Lyan Tun, a filmmaker from Myanmar.

Sein Lyan Tun is the only participant from Myanmar at this year’s Docs By The Sea Accelerator. He brings his film project The Bamboo Family, together with Indonesian producer Dwi Sujanti Nugraheni (Heni). His film is autobiographical, telling the story of a director’s dream that is almost lost during COVID-19.

Sein is the alumnus of Docs By The Sea 2017. Here he tells his experience with the film lab this year, his dream about Myanmar cinema, and how to manage emotional and psychological health under a difficult situation.

This interview is edited for clarity.

In 2017 you joined Docs By The Sea for the first time, and this year you came back with a new project. What makes you come back this year? What's so special about Docs By The Sea that makes you want to bring a project again?

To be honest, my filmmaker life starts from Docs By The Sea 2017. I really love Docs By The Sea. It is like my own family, and I also love all the filmmakers that I met in Bali. We still keep in touch, and we are still working together. I even met Heni, my producer here.

Can you explain about the project that you're bringing to Docs By The Sea this year? What is it about? And where did the idea come from? 

This year I brought a very personal project of mine—about me and my family, and I think many Southeast Asian filmmakers also experience similar situations. My parents want me to run some businesses, but I still choose to be a filmmaker. During the pandemic, I am trapped in this dilemma because I don’t know what to do, and COVID has stopped everything. So, in this story I want to explore myself upon this uncertain future ahead of me. 

How has COVID-19 personally affected you personally as a filmmaker, and maybe collectively as Myanmar filmmakers?

I think it’s a lot for me. The filmmaking works that I am doing, for example with NHK from Japan, and all the works that I have agreed on have to stop because of COVID. I cannot shoot. All the projects are postponed, and I don't know when it's going to start again. And also, we cannot travel, but we are stuck with some meetings, online workshops.  The situation is worse for filmmakers I think because filmmakers are supposed to explore more things and get more opportunities. In 2019, I was traveling a lot and met a lot of people and built connections.

Filmmakers in Myanmar are facing a difficult situation now in your country, not only with the pandemic, but also the current political situation in your country. What is your dream for Myanmar cinema? What would you wish to happen in the future?

Since a few years back, I have been working with the local industry. I am helping writers as an assistant writer, I am involved in the scriptwriting process. In Myanmar industry, most of the films produced will only be known locally, they don’t really get the international exposure because they are still mainstream films. I have some good relationships with the actors and actresses, as well as the writers, and I want them to have an international exposure, getting a chance to experience travelling and spending time in another country, and be appreciated by other people. I have known them for quite a long time, and I know that they have talent. I know some new generation filmmakers have already tried to reach the international stage, but what about the filmmakers from previous generations? I think they also deserve to get international exposure. Otherwise, they will be stuck in the local mainstream. 

Most of the films produced in Myanmar are very comedic and funny, and we always make a joke about that. But then I realised that’s because they don’t have any experience, they never try to go out and get international exposure. That’s why I think why not work together to achieve and get something. So, this is how I want to be involved in the local industry. I want to share about how I got the experience, how I had to try hard for many years to develop one project. I want them to understand that the work is not like you have a script today, you shoot the next day, and next month the film is going to be released, just like what has been happening in the local mainstream industry today. It does not work like that. So, yeah I think that’s how I see it. I think a collaboration with them will be good. We can make some quality films in the future. 

How do you manage your emotional health or psychological health that despite the situation, you have to keep going with the project?

I think in all my projects, I am lucky to have producers like John Badalu and Heni, both from Indonesia. They really understand me because not only do we talk about the projects, but also our life and our situations. Whenever I am facing a difficult situation, I always share with Heni, and she would encourage me to keep shooting because she knows I like to shoot. This is a good thing to have a producer that you can trust and respect, to whom you can share, and they can also teach you and share their ideas back to you, and know your situation and your emotion, your struggle. I think if we don’t have this kind of relationship, if we don’t share with each other, the project will be stuck before applying to any lab. 

And this year we applied to Docs By The Sea for two reasons. First, because I want to be in Docs By The Sea every year because I want to see all the Southeast Asian filmmakers. Second, Heni and I would like to get some insights on the storytelling and story structure that we have now. My project is a very personal and emotional film, we need a well-structured story, and we need some directions. We need some mentors to help us see the potential of this story, and we know that we can get some resources and knowledge from the mentor at Docs By The Sea. I am grateful that all the mentors that we met this year are my favourite people, inspiring people. Talking with Heni and meeting with the mentors are like therapy for me. They are like my counsellors. I found that talking to someone is very helpful for me because my project is about me and my family, so it’s like I got a free family consultation just by talking to them. So, yeah, those kinds of things are like the engine that keeps me going and continues my project.

I am hoping we can go far with this project in the future. Hopefully we can go to another lab, workshop, or project market for further development next year.