Locarno Opens Door Winner We Ra Aung on Planned Debut ‘One Summer Day’

Sibling drama paints a larger picture of contemporary Myanmar

We Ra Aung

LOCARNO, Switzerland —  We Ra Aung’s “One Summer Day” proved one of the biggest winners at this year’s Locarno Open Doors co-production platform, Open Doors Hub, where it shared the main prize with Dawood Hilmandi’s “Badeszenen.” It also snagged a second kudo, the CNC Prize from France’s state film agency. We Ra Aung is among Myanmar’s

leading filmmakers, recently chosen, for instance, to participate in Cannes’ La Fabrique des Cinemas du Monde. This year, he is at Locarno with his first feature screenplay under his arm. We Ra’s past films includes three short features: “The Robe,” “Side Glance of a Dragon” and “The Glass Man.” “One Summer Day” offers a big picture of Myanmar’s economic and political situation through a story of a sister who’s pregnant but attempts to rescue her brother who’s been conscripted into the army. Variety talked to We Ra Aung at Locarno.

What would you say is the main theme or key issues that you develop in “One Summer Day”?

“One Summer Day” is a story of the love and the relationship between a brother and a sister. But, wrapped up in that, it tries to explore contemporary issues in Myanmar through Burmese youth and society. Although it takes place over just 24 hours, it’s totally grounded in its historical background. This is not only the journey of a woman who is pregnant and tries to get her brother back from the army. 

How do you plan to treat this in visual style and genre? 

Based on a true story, “One Summer Day” is a contemporary political drama. There is no moment of fantasy, so lighting is natural, costumes and make-up as well; there are no designed sets or studio locations. The plot offers a lot of twists, presented in an objective way. It evolves from static shoots to dynamic camera movement and from there to a larger freedom of action.

Your previous shorts and your project seem to offer some optimism, despite the darker side to characters and the political environment…

We lived hard times under the military government for so long. I have seen movies depicting daily life in its darkest and most saddening days. These movies are very inspirational for me. However, my films describe the light and hope in human beings rather than life’s shadows.

What are the main challenges for a new director trying to make his first movie in Myanmar?

To date, there is no public funding to support the film industry’s development. Right now, Myanmar’s film industry is a profit-based business that favors quantity over quality and is producing a lot of amateurish movies. No efforts have been made to create films that might be up to international standards.

That context notwithstanding, is your national cinema becoming a bit more popular in your country?

Despite the multiple problems of Myanmar film industry,  with the growing freedom of knowledge inside the country, the audience’s acceptance of new film creators has been rising. This is a very positive development for the film industry. It’s very pleasing to see the public accepting a new generation of filmmakers trying to break out and break into international film markets, even though the government has been kind of useless at developing the film industry and executive producers are not making an ounce of effort to create quality films.

How do you envisage your next films? What kind of cinema are you interested in?

After “One Summer Day,” I want to keep creating stories based on human rights issues, but from the brightest and most optimistic of perspectives about human beings.