the Buddhist monks got fed up with Burma’s oppressive military regime. A deeply devout nation, the Burmese people
were shocked when the army fired on the monks' peaceful demonstrations. Yet, the junta still rules. Physics professor, novelist, and independent
filmmaker Robert H. Lieberman explores the tragic dynamics of the Southeast
Asian country from a layman’s point of view in They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
because of the wide variety of professional hats Lieberman wears, he was
recruited to participate in a State Department sponsored filmmaker mentoring
program. Having gained entrée into the
“second most isolated country on the planet,” Lieberman recognized what an
unusual opportunity he had. Over the
next two years, Lieberman furtively filmed the people and their customs,
keeping his eyes peeled for anything that might shed light on the nation’s
political and social realities. He even
scored an on-camera sit-down interview with the recently released Aung San Suu
Kyi, which should always be good for bragging rights around the Cornell faculty
from hours of footage, Call mixes
sort of National Geographic-style appreciations of Burma/Myanmar’s
stunning temples, their distinctive application of thanaka facial paste (for
cooling and cosmetic purposes), and the like, with legitimate muckraking, all
via handheld camcorder. Indeed, at not
insignificant personal risk, Lieberman conveys a real sense of the fear and
paranoia fostered by the military police state.
Yet, perhaps even more shocking are the truly Sisyphean hand-to-mouth
living conditions endured by the overwhelming majority of Burmese, vividly
documented in Call.
obvious reasons, Lieberman scrupulously maintains the anonymity of his
interview subjects. Their commentary is
consistently illuminating and more often than not depressing, suggesting the
regime’s pervasive oppression has even affected the populace’s psychological
ability to think as a political free agent.
Still, for true profundity, it is hard to top Suu Kyi’s parting words:
“politicians who think they’ve gone beyond being politicians are very
dangerous.” Someone should carve that in
marble where the current and future occupants of the Oval Office will see it
There is nothing more frustrating than an ostensibly
independent filmmaker producing a puff piece in a notorious closed
society. To his credit, Lieberman chose
to take the tougher path. The result is
a solid boots-on-the-ground overview of contemporary Burma, periodically spiked
with moments of shocking outrage.
Interested viewers who find it a good general introduction can then fill
in the details with more specific case studies, like HBO2’s Burma Soldier and Luc Besson’s Suu Kyi
biopic The Lady. Recommended for general audiences, They Call It Myanmar opens this Friday
(9/21) in New York at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.
Labels: Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma, Documentary