The literary and acting communities in Myanmar rejoiced at the homecoming on September 8 of well-known cartoonist, artist, writer and film director U Win Pe.

U Win Pe, now 78 years old, left Myanmar in 1994 when he was invited to attend the prestigious International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. He expected to return home at the end of the three-month program, but said he was “unwelcome” in Myanmar after discussing freedom of expression in Iowa. Faced with exile, U Win Pe worked as a freelance writer and painter. Many of his works were commissioned by the Open Society, a foundation run by American philanthropist George Soros aimed at fostering democracy, human rights and social reform. U Win Pe also translated books about Myanmar written by foreign writers. He worked at RFA until 2005.

In 1956, at the age of 22, U Win Pe became a cartoonist at Ludu newspaper where he drew political cartoons. U Win Pe also did a stint as principal of Mandalay State School of Fine Arts, but resigned and started a career in film in 1973.

“All the films he directed were excellent,” said well-known comedian U Zaganar.

U Zaganar said that when he made his historic visit to the US in January, the first Myanmar person he met was U Win Pe.

“He told me he wanted to return home and wanted to pay homage to Shwedagon Pagoda,” U Zaganar said, adding that U Win Pe’s return to Myanmar will be a great advantage for the domestic film industry. “I asked for his help in making the biopic about Bogyoke Aung San now underway. U Win Pe is a genius at storytelling. We watched his films as if we were listening to a story as our grandmother would tell it. He created films that told a story,” he said.

“U Win Pe once said that Myanmar films would not be globally recognised until the directors created dramatised documentaries, while they are also making feature films. This prediction has come true, because the locally produced works that have won international awards are dramatised documentaries,” U Zaganar said.