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The world has all but forgotten Myanmar.
A year after military forces seized power in a bloody coup Feb. 1, 2021, the crackdown on human rights has intensified — a new cybersecurity law set to take effect in the coming weeks will give the government complete control of all electronic communications in the country — but the global news media has moved on to the next crisis.
The Myanmar Diaries is a sharp reminder that the people of Burma have not moved on. The documentary, which will premiere in the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section, was shot in secret by a group of anonymous filmmakers calling themselves the Myanmar Collective and chronicles life under the junta in harrowing detail.
Military police pulling people from their homes and carting them off, without notice or explanation. Peaceful protestors beaten or shot in the streets. Alongside this citizen journalism, The Myanmar Diaries splices together short fictional films and expressive imagery evoking the subjective experience of life under a dictatorship.
“Right after the coup, we were in shock, disbelief and had the silly, maybe naive hope, that the military would make some sort of deal, that things would return to normal,” a member of the Myanmar Collective, who will be referred to in this story as Aung, tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“By the end of February, when we realized this was not going to happen and that things were going to get much worse, we decided to do something, using film, the only language we had.” Speaking to THR via an encrypted app from an undisclosed location, Aung is reluctant to reveal too many details of the Myanmar Collective, its members or methods, citing fears of reprisals from the military regime.
On the call with THR, he and another of the film’s directors, whom we’ll call Hlaing, had their faces covered to keep their identities secret. In the documentary, the filmmakers remain similarly anonymous, filmed from the back or addressing the camera only when masked or otherwise disguised.
In one of the film’s most striking images, a filmmaker, stripped to the waist, pulls a black plastic bag over his head and loudly hyperventilates as the camera rolls. Behind him, taped to the wall, is a series of protest slogans: “We Want Justice.” “Give Us Democracy.” “Release Our Leaders.” “Save Myanmar.”
“I’m a filmmaker, I’m not interested in politics. But I’m on the side of those who want freedom,” says Hlaing. “I’m in, I helped make this film, to highlight our community’s situation and how we are really suffering. That’s all I can do.”
By screening The Myanmar Diaries in Berlin, the Myanmar Collective hopes to put its suffering back on the global agenda. “We’re very thankful for this opportunity,” says Hlaing. “Our hope is that people stand in solidarity with us, with our fight for democracy, and help us take action to make changes.”
To help Burmese filmmakers, the Dutch co-producers of The Myanmar Diaries — who, in solidarity with the local directors, also do not want to be credited here — plan to launch an online platform at myanmarfilmcollective.com to host films and reporting from inside the country.
The platform, which will be hosted in the Netherlands, will launch at the Movies That Matter Human Rights Film Festival in the Hague this April. Organizers hope the platform can act as a hub connecting local filmmakers and activists with the international industry to help provide support, instruction and assistance for directors under threat.
The site will also enable fundraising for the people of Myanmar, allowing supporters to donate money, supply camera equipment or provide expertise or funding to help specific projects. “It’s pretty low-key, but we think it can act as a powerful personal incubator for Burmese films,” an organizer says. “We’ve proven that we can do that with The Myanmar Diaries.”
The Myanmar Diaries premieres in Berlin on Sunday. Autlook Filmsales is selling the documentary worldwide.
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