The Irrawaddy

Myanmar Documentaries Head to Southeast Asian Festival

Thursday, November 9, 2017

YANGON — Two documentaries that shine light on the struggles faced by Myanmar people both in and outside the country will be shown at the Unesco town of Luang Prabang, Laos in December as part of a Southeast Asian cinema showcase.

In Exile directed by Myanmar filmmaker Tin Win Naing, and Burma Storybook directed by Czech-born Petr Lom will form part of the eighth Luang Prabang Film Festival, where 32 feature films from 10 regional countries will be screened from 8-13 December.

In Exile (Pyi Pye in Myanmar) documents the plight of Myanmar refugees and migrant workers who fled civil war and political persecution to Thailand. The festival will be its second Southeast Asia screening following its home premiere in September at the Wathann Festival.

The documentary was also shown at several international film festivals including Busan and Toronto last year.

Director Tin Win Naing said showing his film in Laos is important, as the majority of Thailand’s migrant workers are from there, as well as Myanmar and Cambodia.

“I want the audience [in Laos] to know how badly those who are in exile for many different reasons and working in foreign countries want to go home,” he told The Irrawaddy.

He also stressed that the film would help people understand the extent of labor exploitation migrant workers face in Thailand.

Another film, Burma Storybook, highlights the resilience of people in Myanmar emerging from years of dictatorship. It features the works of several Burmese poets along with their brief portraits and expressions of struggle through poetry.

A still from the film Burma Storybook. (Supplied)

Produced by Dutch filmmaker Corinne van Egeraat, the film focuses on 70-year-old dissident poet Maung Aung Pwint, who has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease after spending several years behind bars.

The film gives a glimpse into the world of contemporary Myanmar, touching on many issues the country faces during its transition from total military rule, including outdated public transportation and booming Internet use.

Petr Lom told The Irrawaddy that he and his partner are honored that their film was recommended for the festival and delighted to show the film in another regional country at one of the most important festivals in Southeast Asia.

Luang Prabang Film Festival motion picture ambassadors picked the festival’s selections. Thaiddhi, an independent filmmaker and co-founder of Myanmar’s pioneering film festival Wathann, chose two documentaries focusing on contemporary political and social issues in Myanmar and the region, the festival’s statement said.

Thaiddhi said both documentaries reflect on political themes through a personal lens.

Burma Storybook weaves together the personal life of a poet and the challenge of freedom of expression in Myanmar, he said. In Exile director Tin Win Naing has fled political persecution and was once an illegal migrant worker in Thailand. Because of these experiences, the director intimately presents the struggles of Myanmar migrant workers on the country’s border with Thailand, added Thaiddhi.

Box office hits and successful independent films such as Bad Genius and Railway Sleepers from Thailand and Die Beautiful from Philippines will also be shown at the film festival.