No Laughing Matter

TitleNo Laughing Matter
DirectorPe Maung Same
ProducerLin Sun Oo
CinematographerPe Maung Same
EditorZaw Win Htwe
CountryMyanmar
Year of Production2020
VDP Selection YearLaugh!-2023
Screen Time30min
LanguageBurmese
SubtitlesEnglish/Japanese

Overview

“No Laughing Matter” is a poignant journey through the art of satire and presents the insights of U Pe Thein, a celebrated political cartoonist. Through a series of unearthed tape recordings from 1996, this documentary delves into the entwined history of political satire and the turbulent political landscape of Myanmar. It also provides a penetrating commentary on free press and political cartoons as mirrors on society. 

Pe Maung Same

Director

Pe Maung Same is an independent documentary filmmaker who has been working in the Myanmar film industry for over 20 years. One of his most celebrated film is ‘Nargis – when time stopped breathing’, which tells the lyrical story of the coexistence of life and death after the biggest natural disaster in Myanmar. It screened in over 20 international film festivals. In 2013, he co-directed ‘The River, Our Ayeyarwaddy’ with Tay Zar, where they captured the Irrawaddy river and the people who depend on it highlighting the threats it meets. He has also been training young emerging filmmakers of Myanmar, in collaboration with different INGOs and local NGOs. He now mentors film students from diverse communities and provides consultations to news agencies for programs while working on his own films as well.

Lin Sun Oo

Producer

Lin Sun Oo is the co-founder of Tagu Films – a local independent film production company based in Myanmar. He has produced several award-winning short documentary films. The most notable of which is ‘This Land is Our Land’ which received the Aung San Suu Kyi award for Best Documentary at the Human Rights and Human Dignity International Film Festival 2015. He transitioned to producing short films starting with ‘Acceptance’ which won the Audience Award as well as the Best Actress Award in the 9th Wathann Film Festival in 2019. In 2020, he produced ‘No Laughing Matter’ which received the Best Documentary Award at the 10th  Wathann Film Festival. Lin has worked on a feature length film titled ‘The Mist of Maya’ which was selected for the Locarno Open Door’s in 2021. He has begun work on his first feature length documentary titled ‘The Birdwatcher.’ Besides production, Lin Sun Oo has run several workshops for first time filmmakers for ethnic minority communities in Myanmar.

Zaw Win Htwe

Editor

Zaw Win Htwe is a seasoned film and documentary editor based in Yangon. After working as a film editor in the Burmese commercial film industry for nine years, he shifted his focus toward documentaries and independent films in 2009. He was the editor of ‘The Monk’ (2014), one of Myanmar’s most recent famous independent films. His edited documentaries have won various awards and have been screened in many international film festivals. He continues to work as an editor and editing mentor for local documentaries and independent films.

Interview with Tagu Films

Why did you make this documentary?
How did you come to work on this theme?

‘No Laughing Matter’ was made in 2020 after the director found lost audio recordings that his father had made in 1996. In Myanmar, the political history post-colonialism has always been shrouded in mystery. As a nation we do not often reconcile or learn from our past. We were fortunate to have found these recordings that provided us with a short glimpse of a free press and political cartoons that reflected times: from our colonial past until the military junta of 1990s. It is said that history is cyclical and repeats itself.  Unfortunately many of the issues discussed in this film remain salient socio-political problems that we have to face today.

Commentary from the Screening Committee Members

Yoko Hayami

Professor, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Cultural Anthropology 

Produced in 2020, this work predates the 2021 military coup in Myanmar. The power of laughter in cartoon journalism, which has depicted the relationship between society and politics throughout the ages, is conveyed in the voice of the cartoonist’s (the protagonist’s father) speech on audio cassette tape, along with the audience’s laughter that occurs during the speech. The cassette tape is the primary source of the power of this work. The richness of the images and sound, the history and background, the politics of the cartooning itself, and the power of the laughter that accompanies it are richly portrayed in this film, which evokes for us the faces of the citizens of Myanmar today.

Sein Lyan Tun

filmmaker/producer

This documentary showcases an impressive archive of work from one of Myanmar’s legendary cartoonists, U Pe Thein. It focuses on the director’s father’s cartoons and art works intertwining them with a captivating, rare recording of his voice. This mix satirizes the political situation of Myanmar through from British colonial rule to contemporary times. Although not all cartoons are translated, the universal language of satire powerfully mocks the political and societal dynamics of their respective eras. This documentary is unparalleled in its documentation of a legendary cartoonist. It also sparks curiosity about how Southeast Asian cartoonists have similarly portrayed their political situations and society. Impressively well edited, with strong entertaining cartoons I just wish that we could have had all of them translated.

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