I had a chance to preview an amazing documentary called ‘Burma Soldier,’ which premieres on HBO2 tonight at 8 p.m. It’s just the sort of political film that Sundance would help fund, which is what they did back in 2008.
I can’t say I’m all that tuned into world politics, but I’ve heard bad things about Burma through the years. In short, it’s a mess there. You can read more about the war crimes, human rights violations, crimes against humanity and everything else at a great site called U.S. Campaign for Burma. Be warned, though. It’s depressing. But also important to know what’s going on in this little country between Bangladesh and Thailand in Southeastern Asian.
And check out ‘Burma Soldier,’ which I’m hoping will air multiple times on HBO2. It’s a rare glimpse into the brutal dictatorship as seen through the eyes of Myo Myint Cho, a former Burmese soldier who gives the straight scoop on the political and psychological power taking place there.
Myo joined the Burmese Army at age 17 to find security, respect and a job. Before losing his limb to a land mine, he supported the brutal military regime that’s run the country for more than 45 years. I would think if that’s all you knew, then a person might be inclined to go along with it.
But after the land mine incident, Myo switched sides and joined the pro-democracy movement. The film traces the history of Burma from 1948, blending interviews, archival footage and still photographs, much of it smuggled out of the country.
In 1962, General Ne Win, the head of the military, staged a coup, imposing military rule and crippling the country under a socialist economy. The area is diverse, but Ne Win dictated harsh rules outlining a single Burmese identity considered superior to all other groups in an effort to control ethnic minorities. Sounds horrifyingly familiar.
As Myo waits in a refugee camp in Thailand — seeking asylum in the U.S. — he outlines the journey that brought him to this place. And the stories are heartbreaking – a brutal civil war that finds innocent people arrested, interrogated, raped and murdered. “Of the soldiers’ abuses, Myo says, “For them, it is just as normal as eating and drinking.”
After being arrested at a rally and sentenced to 15 years in jail (where he was not allowed to read or write), Myo was released and made the risky decision to flee to Thailand. Eventually, he was able to join his brother and sister in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, home to the largest Burmese community in the U.S.
‘Burma Soldier’ is narrated by Colin Farrell and directed by Nic Dunlop, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern (who also helmed one of my favorite docs in recent years, ‘Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work‘). Please make time to check out this important film. It’s a real eye-opener because foreign journalists are banned, censorship reigns, and access to info is strictly controlled.
Check out these other resources on Burma and global political issues.
Image: LeBrocquy Fraser Productions