They Call It Myanmar
“A hymn to a land that has grown out of the oldest cultures in Asia.” - Chicago Sun Times
- Human Rights Film Festival Vienna
*Best Documentary* One World International Documentary Film Festival
Once known as ‘the rice bowl of Asia’, Burma threw off British and Japanese occupation to reach the brink of independence in the 1940s, only to descend into one of the most isolated military dictatorships in the world after the assassination of Aung San. Subsequent struggles for democracy were forcefully put down by the military junta, notably the “88 Generation” movement of 1988-1990 led by students and Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Saffron Revolution of 2007-2008 led by Theravada Buddhist monks.
Filmed clandestinely over a few years, beginning in 2010 during a tentative lifting of martial law, They Call It Myanmar explores a diverse country that contains over 100 ethnicities, however dominated by the majority Bamar people, and a culture that is thousands of years old. The resulting portrait manages to capture the country’s beauty, along with its cruelty, and conveys the proud perseverance of its devout people. An extended interview with Aung San Suu Kyi, prior to her fall from international grace, guides part of the film.
Traumatized by more than half a century of political repression, institutional dysfunction, and economic depression, the people of Myanmar (Burma) have been forced to normalize a host of abuses. A number of child laborers are interviewed, ranging from 8 to 14. Stories of family members trafficked for money are recounted. A young girl suspected of having tuberculosis is treated by an untrained medic referred to as a “quack”, a type of care that seems to form the foundation of the health care system. The pervasive lack of education shown and described, including within the top ranks of the military, leaves an impression of how deep the country’s problems run, and how long it will take to heal despite the recent limited steps it has made in the direction of democracy.
The context provided by the film also serves to illuminate the most recent developments in the country. Having gone in a few years from a blackout of non-state media to wired to the internet, which is accessed almost entirely through the Facebook app on phones, the country appears critically and institutionally unequipped to navigate the brave new world of algorithm-driven propaganda and hate speech. Its existing constitution also still prevents civilian control of the military. In context, its military targeting of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, in what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, is less than surprising. In light of the moves toward isolationism by the US since 2016, it is not irrelevant that a deep-sea port in Rakhine State is coveted by China as part of its signature Belt and Road Initiative.
84 Minutes | English and Burmese with English subtitles.
Directed by: Robert H. Lieberman
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