DER Documentary

Friends in High Places

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by Lindsey Merrison
color, 88/56 min, 2001






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“Buddhism and nat worship are like mangoes and bananas”

Whether contending with a deceitful daughter-in-law, forecasting financial prospects for a tea shop, or freeing a husband from government detainment, Friends in High Places reveals the central role of nats and spirit mediums in alleviating the day to day burdens of modern Burmese life.

“Leprosy isn’t as contagious as people’s problems,” notes one medium, “my clients bring their worries into my home. I don’t need to go out on the street to learn how cruel life can be.” Yet despite their skills in channeling good luck for others, the life stories of the mediums prove to be as poignant as the stories of those who seek their assistance.

Just as nats lie somewhere on the spectrum between mortals and the divine, the gay men who serve as primary conduits for the nat spirits are considered to be neither male nor female. Regarded by society with a curious mix of disdain and reverence, the male mediums profiled in this film – ranging from the gentle, melancholy “Lady Silver Wings” to the hard drinking, ego-driven “Mr. Famous” – illustrate the special niche granted to gay men in Burmese society.

Exquisite footage accentuates Lindsey Merrison’s keen eye for nuance as she takes the viewer on a journey examining the extremes that define Burmese spirit mediums and their way of life. Deceit and artistry, tragedy and comedy, faith and cynicism – in a country known both as a 2,500 year bastion of Buddhism and more recently for its legacy of political corruption and instability, the world of the nat becomes an analogy for the many unusual juxtapositions within Burma itself.

“Having examined the strong Anglo-Burmese heritage suppressed by her mother in 1996 debut Our Burmese Days, helmer Lindsey Merrison journeys deeper into the contempo society of Myanmar (as country's been known for past dozen years) in lively, colorful docu Friends in High Places. Story of flamboyant mediums and the cult that's sprung up around them has already nabbed one ethnographic fest prize and will garner more praise on the circuit before vigorous tube and ancillary life.” — Eddie Cockrell, Variety

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Official Selection, Visions du Reel, Nyon, Switzerland, 2001
Grand Jury Prize for Outstanding Ethnographic Documentary, XV Parnu Film Festival, Estonia 2001
10th Brisbane International Film Festival, 2001
Cork Film Festival, Ireland, 2001
Margaret Mead Festival, New York, 2001
Berlin International Film Festival, 2002
Outfest, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, 2002
Montreal International Queer Film and Video Festival, September 2002
Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, California, 2002
Singapore International Film Festival, 2002
Beeld voor Beeld Film Festival, Amsterdam, 2002
Bilan du film ethnographique, Musée de l'Homme, Paris, 2002
One World Film Festival, Prague, 2002
Turin Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, 2002
Göttingen International Film Festival, Germany, 2002
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