A secretly-made film about Burma is making waves in the US at a time when it is receiving renewed attention from the US government, anxious to wean the country away from its reliance on its strongest ally, China, and as the new civilian government sets out on a reform programme in which limited elections will be held on April 1.
The film, “They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain”, was made by physics professor Robert Lieberman, 71, of Cornell University who took time off to train filmmakers in Burma over two years under the Fulbright programme.
Told not to shoot any film, of course he did just that, most of it secretly, and accumulated 120 hours of his own footage. Now turned into a documentary, it’s making waves in the US where press reviews such as this one from the Associated Press say it “pries the lid off daily life in what has long been one of world’s most isolated and repressed places, examining its grinding poverty and tragic decades of military rule”
Perhaps the description only reflects the woefully pitiful ignorance that most Americans have about the rest of the world, let alone one corner of South-East Asia, as revealed in this quote from the New York Times: “My ultimate goal was to bring Burma into the Western consciousness,” Lieberman said in one of several telephone interviews. “I wanted to put a human face on the country.” He added, “Up until Hillary’s visit, it was really one of the most isolated countries on the planet.”
I suppose every little bit helps, even if the film turns out to be as patronising as the reviews.
(Hilary Clinton visited Burma late last year after the Burmese government began taking reform measures. The country has been under US economic sanctions because of its poor human rights record, but is being wooed by the US as a counter to its strong relationship with China. In addition, Asean has allowed Burma to take its due of the rotating chairmanship of Asean in 2014.)
In a sense, the film already is outdated, the AP says. Lieberman did the leg work before change began taking hold, although he sneaked back early last year to interview Aung San Suu Kyi after she was released from house arrest, and her musings on the country and its history are part of the narrative. But what is missing is what beckons now. Human rights activists and dissidents view the changes in Burma of the past year as the most significant since the military took power after independence.
The film’s touching closing sequences tell of people’s aspirations. One Burmese tearfully speaks of how Burma is a proud country, but one that needs help to stand on its own feet. Another simply yearns “to speak, read and write poetry the way your heart tells you to do it.”
The film has won awards at film festivals in Amsterdam, Vienna and Finland.