DER Documentary

Yangon Film School: Stories from Myanmar 2008


preview coming soon

by Lindsey Merrison
color, 181 min, 2009




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Films made by participants of Yangon Film School workshops in Myanmar 2008.

Since its inception in 2005, the non-profit Yangon Film School has brought together experienced filmmaking tutors from around the world and young Burmese men and women with some prior experience in the media for residential training in all aspects of filmmaking - from screenwriting to editing - with a particular focus on documentary.

DISC 1 — Contains six documentaries made by students of the Yangon Film School. The Yangon Film School's 2008 crop of documentaries bears testimony to the filmmakers' growing ability to create vibrant portraits and tell engaging stories about the impact that integrated development activities are having on the people of Myanmar. Four of these documentaries were edited by their directors, two of whom were editing for the first time under workshop tutelage. Whether the filmmakers set up their cameras in rural Myanmar or in urban Yangon, these new works exude a sense of humanity and poise that has become the signature style of YFS filmmakers.

DISC 2True Fictions shows where the students were invited to step over the hazy boundaries of documentary into the realm of fiction filmmaking. Taking its cue from the work of celebrated Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, famous for his deceptively spare storytelling featuring nonprofessional actors in real settings, the four week 'True Fictions' course gave participants the opportunity to film their own documentary-fiction hybrid, based on a screenplay written by a participant of the Yangon Film School's 2007 Art of Screenwriting Workshop.

After an initial foray into the 'True Fictions' approach that asked the students to film their own versions of three scenes from Kiarostami's Through the Olive Trees (without having seen Kiarostami's film), workshop participants immersed themselves in the production of two versions of the main filming assignment - Like a Bubble in Water. Working in two teams of nine and, having found two different sets of protagonists and locations, the novice fiction-makers embarked on a steep learning curve as they struggled with the logistics of feature film production and tried to coax convincing performances from their nonprofessional cast. As if they didn't have enough on their plates, crew members were also asked to swap functions, mid-shoot. Finally, four students were given the task of editing and mixing the material, so that a month of controlled mayhem yielded four different cinematic versions - two with music, and two without - of the same script.

This DVD contains all four versions of Like a Bubble in Water - two of which were edited from material filmed by Team A, and two from material filmed by Team B. The short film About the 'True Fictions' Workshop is an evocative glimpse of the work on set and in the classroom that also includes students' and tutors' reflections on having been a part of the 'True Fictions' experiment and the vagaries of fiction filmmaking in a documentary setting.

Disc 1: Stories from Myanmar 2008

The Change Maker - Directed and edited by Lay Thida, Camera: Tin Win Naing, Sound: Hnin Ei Hlaing (16 min). Su Mai is one of 105 'fellows' trained by Metta Foundation, ActionAid and Shalom Foundation who have volunteered to live in remote rural communities and promote self-reliance and equality. In this short documentary made for the British Embassy, Rangoon, 23-year-old Su Mai looks back on the year she has spent in the village of Sekham in Kachin State. After struggling to overcome the villagers? initial hostility, she helped them realize an impressive array of activities including several micro-credit schemes and the construction of two schools, a library and a road.

My Positive Life - Directed by Wai Mar Nyunt, Camera: Mya Darli Aung, Sound: Kyaw Myo Lwin, Editor: Myo Min Khin (20 min). When 51-year-old U Chit Ko Ko learned six years ago that he was HIV-positive he thought his life was over. A friend encouraged him to visit FXB where counselling helped him to overcome his fear and depression. The warm, funny and remarkably open U Chit has since become an assistant social worker for this NGO, where he coordinates a Sunday Empowerment Group to provide valuable support to a growing but often stigmatised section of the population.

Rays of Hope - Directed and edited by Aung Nwai Htway, Camera: Thaiddhi, Sound: Ma Zin Zin (16 min). Made for the NGO Association François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) active in Myanmar since 1993, this short documentary tells the story of 23-year-old Ohmar Kyaw, who lives with her parents and seven siblings in Hlaing Thar Yar on the outskirts of Yangon. As a teenager, she worked crippling twelve-hour shifts in a garment factory in order to support her large family. In her own touching words, Ohmar Kyaw describes the impact that FXB's vocational programmes are having on needy young people such as herself.

Saving Sankar - Directed by Thi Ha Thwe, Camera: Thaiddhi, Sound: Hnin Ei Hlaing, Editor: Thu Thu Shein (16 min). In this short, atmospheric documentary made for World Concern, we follow two energetic, dedicated community health workers trained by this NGO as they endeavor to eradicate malaria in their Kachin village in northern Myanmar - in spite of persistent and often humorous misconceptions about the disease's prevention and cure among Sankar's multi-ethnic residents.

Sun Behind the Clouds - Directed and edited by Wai Mar Nyunt, Camera: Thu Thu Shein, Sound: Kyaw Myo Lwin (13 min). For ten years, Ngwa Ma Lay has served as a World Concern-trained health worker in the village of Sana in northern Kachin State where malaria still poses a threat to the people who cultivate crops on the steep hillsides. Striking vistas of the mountains that surround this Lisu community punctuate Ngwa Ma Lay's soft-spoken account of how her recent marriage to a caring man ten years her junior has helped her overcome the untimely loss of her first husband, who, like Ngwa Ma Lay, championed the cause of health care in his parish.

Disc 2: True Fictions

Beyond the Tsunami - Dir: Shin Daewe (21 min). Ko Myint Oo and Ma Pu live with their four sons in Aung Myay Thar in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta of southern Myanmar. Like many others in their village, they lost everything in the Tsunami. They tell the story of that fateful day and describe how an NGO's programmes are helping them to rebuild and improve their lives.

Stepping Up - Dir: Pe Maung Same (21 min). Ko Tin Tun is a farmer eking out a living in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta. His survival rests on one basic need: water. His fortunes are transformed by the arrival of a simple but life-changing piece of technology in the shape of a treadle pump from IDE.

A Farmer's Tale - Dir. and Editor: Lay Thida (19 min). This short documentary offers an insight into the life of a former poppy grower in the Pa-O region of Myanmar's southern Shan State and shows how Metta Development Foundation's Farmer Field School programme is helping him and others like him grow alternatives to opium and earn a living from a harsh, unyielding land.

The Merry Widows of Nam Mun Village - Dir. and Editor: Kyi Phyu Shin (23 min). This film captures the dynamic widows of Nam Mun village in Kachin State as Metta Development Foundation's Participatory Action Research (PAR) programme enables them to spearhead projects - from pig rearing to rice banks and savings and loans - that are transforming lives from abject poverty into economic viability.

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
AAA/Society for Visual Anthropology Film, Video & Multimedia Festival, 2009
Voices From the Waters Film Festival, Bangalore, India, 2009

Related Films
Yangon Film School: Stories from Myanmar 2007
Yangon Film School: Art of Documentary Filmmaking
Yangon Film School: Art of Documentary Editing
Peacing it Together



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