Myanmar Diaries keeps itself laser focused in showing us the state of despair & pain that the Burmese people have been put through. Full of anger and resilience, the young filmmakers have made a heartbreakingly powerful film that floods your emotions as these people cry for our help.
Hidden from the world’s TV cameras, life under Myanmar’s junta of terror in the aftermath of last year’s military coup has been largely invisible. As an act of creative resistance, the anonymous Myanmar Film Collective composed this feature-length film by blurring reality and fiction, all segments from their first-person perspective, woven together with blood-chilling eye-witness footage in the form of citizen journalism.
The film starts by informing us of the reason for its existence. Myanmar Diaries is made up of short films from ten young anonymous Burmese filmmakers who have gone to bold and harrowing lengths to show us the brutality of what is really going on within the country.
As you read this, music is playing, and you wonder how that connects. Then we are presented with a shot that you may very well have seen before. A woman is dancing in public to the music, all while a large convoy moves past a security line. Where is that convoy going? Well, directly to the parliament building to stage a coup on the government. So begins a tortuous year of pain for the country that is perfectly shown to us in this quite extraordinary film.
From that moment on, you become transfixed at what comes before us. Filmed with a mixture of handheld mobile phone footage and dramatization, we are given something quite special here. Devastating us with clip upon a clip of what has been going on for far too long. An older woman berates an entire convoy of soldiers for a lengthy amount of time about what they are doing is wrong and why they should not be sacrificing their young lives to such a terrible cause. It is the first of many powerful moments in Myanmar Diaries that grab you as firmly as you could imagine, leaving you partly shell shocked at what is going on. Then suddenly, a strong overwhelming sense of guilt washes over us.
As difficult as it is to accept, we have forgotten the people of Myanmar; with everything going on in our lives, we have forgotten the people who are continually suffering this bone-chilling treatment—barred from protesting or showing any form of angst towards those in charge, given curfews and generally living in a continual state of fear, seemingly all on their own. How many of us could hand on heart say they still knew such issues were going on?
What is continually interesting is the tactic used to police these innocent people, every time someone is being arrested, there is such a strong level of force on the show. Whether it be man or woman, there are continually overwhelmed by ten or more armed forces. These forces also never explain themselves and seem to follow a set rule in what they say, saying that the person needs to come with them—never informing the citizens or us why.
This utterly terrifying behaviour seems to be as random as they come; the forces are also their own witnesses to the supposed crimes that were committed as if the large numbers should sway the person to go with them. We do not know where they end up, we do not know, but we can only assume it is never a good outcome for the arrested individual considering how the force in which they are arrested. We even see plain-clothed soldiers or, worse, hired thugs to pretend to be protestors and suddenly pull out iron bars to beat the protestors until the soldiers come to arrest the heavily beaten souls.
While it could be said that the fictional side of the film is not required, there is an importance to it, for we see people trying to live in this new world. Some struggle with it, and others are not as willing to raise a child surrounded by all of this. It is sometimes poetic, but it is always meaningful and earns its place in the film.
We may not have been fully aware of the trauma ongoing in the country, but thanks to The Film Collective, Myanmar Diaries throws that attention back right at us again. As it should, there is too much going on for us to pretend not to notice anymore. We should be highlighting this in every way possible. We owe the Burmese people as much.
Myanmar Diaries will be playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and is available to stream across the UK and Ireland between 17-25 March via https://ff.hrw.org/london
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