Thursday, January 28, 2010

The face of Burma’s non-violent resistance

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 17:43 Brian McCartan (film review)

A new documentary by two Canadian filmmakers highlights the continuing, non-violent resistance to Burma’s dictatorial regime by political and humanitarian activists who do so at great risk.

The film, Breaking the Silence: Burma’s Resistance, was shown for the first time to an English-speaking audience at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok on January 22nd. The 75-minute film had previously been screened in a French language version late last year in Canada.

Filmmakers Pierre Mignault and Hélène Magny had previously filmed in Burma in 1999 while producing a documentary on Buddhism in the country. The trip allowed them to see first-hand the situation within the country and the plight of its people.

Last year they returned, this time travelling to the Thai town of Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border and later crossing clandestinely into the Karen area of eastern Burma. Instead of concentrating on the suffering of victims of the regime or only the democracy movement or ethnic struggle, Pierre and Hélène intended to show how ordinary Burmese had organized to resist the regime. About his film, Pierre said at the FCCT, “The focus of this film is the resistance rather than only democracy.”

Its release follows that of the critically acclaimed Burma VJ, which was released last year and documented the efforts of Burmese journalists to expose the regime’s crackdown on monk-led protests in 2007. Breaking the Silence, however, aims to look at the resistance in a much broader context. Nonetheless, the Democratic Voice of Burma’s journalists, some of whom provided the footage seen in Burma VJ, are featured in this documentary as well.

During the eleven months it took to research and get the footage they wanted, they interviewed members of the pro-democracy movement, ethnic Karen “backpack medics”, exile journalists and former political prisoners. Individual interviews featured in the film include Dr. Naing Aung and Khin Omar of the Forum for Democracy in Burma and Bo Kyi of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners -Burma (AAPPB).

In Mae Sot they were taken to safe houses to see how future pro-democracy activists from inside Burma are being trained in non-violent resistance methods by veteran political activists. They were also shown how exile media organizations such as the Democratic Voice of Burma document the situation inside the country, including the 2007 Saffron Revolution. The work of the AAPPB in publicizing the plight of Burmese imprisoned for political offenses and in assisting recently released political prisoners is also profiled.

Across the border, Pierre and Hélène were able to witness the results of military-led policies in ethnic areas. Accompanying medical workers and escorted by soldiers of the Karen National Liberation Army they travelled to hiding sites for internally displaced villagers and collected testimonies from people displaced by military operations and human rights abuses.

That trip was made shortly before a combined Burmese Army and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) offensive in the area in June sent many of the same villagers fleeing again and destroyed at least one of the sites they visited.

At the heart of the film is an effort to show that despite the brutality of the military regime in Burma, there are people willing to stand up to it. In the face of enormous risks that ordinary Burmese take in resisting the regime, they find the courage need to face an Army with only one’s convictions and possibly a pen or a video camera.

Breaking the Silence provides a broad picture of the resistance movement wherein political activists, medical aid workers and journalists do their own parts to work toward a better future for Burma. In doing so, it provides an alternative to an often widely perceived view of Burmese as victims passively resigned to their situation.