Fear of the influence and the possible contradicting response of the people move authorities to ban films. Films are banned based on certain parameters like culture, morality and political expediency. Stirring the emotions and channeling people’s thoughts towards action make filmmakers effective influencers, an attribute missing from people who wield power.
People are usually attracted to anything outlawed which further enhances the value of banned films. There is a saying that goes, ‘forbidden fruits are sweet.’ Banning films produce the opposite result as people crave to see what is prohibited and increase the demand instead reducing interest in the subject.
Time change and what is unacceptable at one time may not be considered dangerous in some other time. Some subjects become tolerable as perspectives change. Previously banned films may seem ridiculous at present, but dangerous at the time they were produced.
It was remarkable for the organizers of Memory! International Heritage Film Festival to include banned films on its 5th edition which run from November 6-12 at the Waziya Theater. The theater in itself is reminiscent of the past, an old cinema house, closed I suppose with the advent of digital films, DVD and VCD, smart phones, YouTube and Netflix. Of the total 63 films total, 20 were banned covering topics on war communism colonialism morality and religion. I have viewed four:
- Different from the others (1919)
A silent movie featuring the effects of a law in Germany against homosexuality. It was considered as the first film featuring homosexuality, a subject considered taboo in Europe at that time.
- All quiet on the western front (1930)
The film was considered an anti-war sentiment. It shows the realities in the frontlines of World War I and how it transformed young people and the needless sacrifice of the youth in the name of patriotism and national honor.
- Battleship Potemkin (1905)
Another black-and-white silent movie featuring the takeover by Bolshevik revolutionaries of a battleship and its collaboration with the people when it docked at the port of Odessa. Purely a political propaganda, this was banned by the Tzar of Russia.
- The men who tread the tiger’s tail (1945)
This film by Akira Korusawa featured the resolve of a samurai. It was banned by the US occupation forces in Japan after the World War II as it fanned nationalist sentiments in Japan.
When I was young, sex-oriented films were restricted and classified as for adults only. As far as I know, I was too young to view these kinds of films. Local film companies at that time produce either Cinderella-type tear jerkers, romantic comedy films or filipinized western films – western as in cowboys and Indians. Young as I was, I enjoyed western films with forested background instead of desert, bananas trees instead of cactuses and grass huts instead of wooden honky-tonks.
My first encounter with censorship was with a Japanese TV animation series Voltes V. In the 70’s the craze were sci-fi heroes like the Sky Rangers and animations like Voltes V and Transformers. Very few people owned TV sets in our neighborhood at that time, and there was no electricity. Diesel generators have to be used to provide power. Late afternoon and early evening periods saw houses with TV packed as the whole community enjoy the shows.
Voltes V was the favorite among young people, and many were surprised when suddenly it was taken out of the regular programming. My friends and I were furious because we enjoyed the series and we were not given the chance to see how the story ended. It turned out the ending episode showed the people rose in revolt against the ruling class. This was what the government wanted to avoid, to encourage any act of rebellion against the Marcos regime.
Nowadays, it was like declaring the Episode 8 of the Game of Thrones will not be shown anymore. And that was not because of artistic or marketing reasons but by political intervention.
Marcos was overthrown, and finally the censored part of Voltes V was shown. I had a closure and I felt satisfied. I can even sing the Voltes V theme song even now.
This is the second of EU-supported film festival in Yangon. Last September 22-October 1 the European Film Festival was shown at the Nay Pyi Taw Cinema featuring films from EU member countries.