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Adrian Cowell Film and Research Collection

Film footage, written materials and slides acquired during three forays into the Shan State in Burma (Myanmar) by filmmaker Adrian Cowell

Adrian Cowell

Collected from the 1960s to 1990s, the Adrian Cowell Film and Research Collection documents the opium and insurgency in Burma.

The collection consists of film footage, written materials and slides acquired during three forays into the Shan State in Burma (Myanmar) by renowned filmmaker Adrian Cowell (1934-2011), one of the most successful documentary filmmakers of his generation (e.g. The Heart of the Forest, 1960; Carnival of Violence documentaries, 1960, 1962, 1966; The Opium Warlords, 1974; the series called Opium, 1978; and The Heroin Wars, 1996).

The Collection contains raw film footage of Cowell’s time spent “embedded” with various Shan insurgencies, including 16 months that he and English cinematographer Christopher Menges (The Killing Fields) spent with the Shan State Army in 1972-73. The enormous amount of footage includes interviews with Lo Hsin Han, Khun Sa and several insurgents and militia leaders, as well as footage of market towns in the Shan highlands, rebel camps, opium caravans and battles. Only a small portion of the footage was used Cowell’s BBC documentaries.

The Shan State was virtually closed off to the outside world in the late 1950 to early 1960s, in part due to conflict. The Adrian Cowell Film and Research Collection is the most extensive collection of images and footage of the Shan State in the world. It contains film footage, photographs, extensive notes and other documents collected during Cowell’s trips documenting opium merchants, opium caravans, militias and insurgents and other activities related to the opium trade.

In 2013, the Adrian Cowell Film and Research Collections became part of the extensive film archives at the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

Once preserved and made accessible, these materials will provide students and scholars with rare research materials and film footage documenting one of UNESCO’s top human rights challenges of this century – the drug trade and secessionist army activities on the Burmese border.

The Libraries seeks community support to preserve and make this exceptional filmmaker’s work accessible to students and scholars worldwide.