Clearly moved, Advisory Board Jury Member, and Award-winning actress, Deborah Kara Unger, today announced Eaindra Kyaw Zin the winner of the Seymour Cassel Award for Outstanding Performance at the 28th Oldenburg International Film Festival.
Myanmar Academy Award winners Eaindra Kyaw Zin and Paing Phyoe Thu both star in director Na Gyi’s second feature film What Happened To The Wolf? that had its world premiere on 16th September at the festival known as “the European Sundance.” Indeed, the festival is one of the most important European film festivals for independent cinema.
The premiere was notable for the absence of the filmmaker and artists.
The film’s creatives are among over 100 celebrities, entertainers and influencers who have been issued arrest warrants under Section 505 (a) of Myanmar’s penal code by the Myanmar military dictatorship. The reason: speaking out against the months of human rights abuses that followed the military coup on the 1st February 2021.
Eaindra, affectionately known by her fans as “Au Wel”, is a two-time Myanmar Academy Award winner, mother of two and married to four-time Myanmar Academy Award winning actor, Pyay Ti Oo. Both were arrested in their home in Myanmar on 10th April.
Director Na Gyi and his wife, lead actress Paing Phyoe Thu, are in hiding and were only able to communicate indirectly with the Festival’s director, Torsten Neumann, in the lead up to the film’s premiere.
When announcing the award, Unger told the crowd that the performances of both lead actresses had left the jury breathless. Unger commended Eaindra’s performance saying, “in stepping back in subtlety, humility and artful discipline this actress enabled her fellow artist to be free. We celebrate her elegance, her soul and her invaluable gift to cinema with hopes that this reaches her.”
Myat Noe represented the film at the premiere on behalf of his close friend, Na Gyi, and accepted the award in Eaindra’s absence.
Noe said of Eaindra, “she is one million times braver than me…she went out protesting bravely along with the people of Myanmar and uses her celebrity to…urge the people to rise up against the military dictatorship. And as a result, she was thrown in jail for no particular crime other than to express her solidarity with the people and the truth.”
Both Neumann and Unger used the red carpet at the festival’s opening gala to draw media attention to Eaindra’s incarceration and the situation in Myanmar by wearing t-shirts emblazoned with her name.
Neumann then paid homage to Na Gyi and the two lead actresses in his opening gala speech. “They are representing the spirit of the festival, which is the spirit of independence and freedom, even if they are not here,’ he said, drawing inspiration from their courage. The attending crowd met these words with cheers.
Beyond their acting careers, Eaindra Kyaw Zin and Pyay Ti Oo channelled their energies into helping build their country. In 2010, they established the Pyay Ti Oo Education Foundation which provides scholarships for the tuition of talented medical students in financial need. Eaindra’s extended family includes prominent artists, musicians and actors. Her grandfather, Bo Zeya, is one of the 30 Comrades that founded the modern Burmese Army to fight for independence from Britain.
Her uncle was the renowned writer/ journalist Dagon Taya, who was a political prisoner in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison after Myanmar’s first military coup in 1962. Eaindra and Pyay Ti Oo are detained in the same prison today. Bravery and fighting against injustice runs in their blood.
Na Gyi and Paing Phyoe Thu married in 2019 and the same year their film Mi screened internationally, winning multiple awards.
In 2020, both Na Gyi and Paing Phyoe Thu campaigned with UNFPA Myanmar to end violence against women. They encouraged men to be involved in the campaign’s 16 days of activism stating, “Let’s stand up and work together to end violence against women!”
After the coup both actors stood firm on the side of the people, with Paing Phyo Thu offering financial help to striking staff involved in the civil disobedience movement.
Na Gyi told The Hollywood Reporter, “The military junta issued a new law a few months back which states that broadcasting stations and cinemas are not allowed to show or broadcast the works of wanted artists who were involved in anti-coup activities…my film will not be shown in Myanmar as long as the military junta remains in power.”
As of 17 September, according to human rights organisation the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) AAPPB, 6613 Myanmar citizens, including women and children, have been arrested, charged or sentenced by the current military junta. Further, 1984 people have been charged with a warrant and are currently evading arrest.
Eaindra remains detained in prison along with many other activists, trade unionists, politicians, students, artists and civilians.
WAM calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Myanmar, and an end to – and justice for – gender-based violence perpetrated by the Myanmar military.