Monday, October 22, 2007
I met this boy in Nalico village, a miserable IDP site that had wonderful people in it. I should rather say he met me, and enjoyed laughing at me and looking at my camera. I met his parents and they asked me to adopt him, to give him a better life... I was hardly in the position to do so and kindly found a way out of it. But I enjoyed his company, gave him what I could and remember him. I hope to see them again.
I've looked at this picture many times, I took it in Mone Township. He's a KNDO soldier, the KNDO is the first Karen army, after the KNU was formed they started the KNLA, but the KNDO still stands and they work together. When ever I see this picture, I remember the feeling I got from him. He didn't need us, he was gonna keep holding on regardless what happened. He was in it for his people. Many depict the Karen as kind of helpless, I even heard CNN call them "ragtag". They are wrong, if that was the case they wouldn't be able to hold back and army of hundreds of thousands with only a few thousand. They have committed men and villagers working together. And I seriously doubt they will give up.
Monday, October 15, 2007
"And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions ." These words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, speak to the heart of this documentary... " Prayer of Peace, Relief & Resistance in Burma's War Zones". At a deeply profound level, it describes Monkey, the man this video follows through the jungle. Monkey is a Karen Pastor and an experienced FBR team leader who ministers to a people in great need. I consider myself blessed to have met such a person, let alone call him my friend. But Solzhenitsyns words also describe the independent film maker who made this movie. His work is beautiful and perhaps more uniquely, it is a gifted portrayal of the truth. In times of war and conflict, truth can be a hard line to find, let alone portray. But I believe this movie does just that with God given skill. I also know that it hasn't come easy. Both filmmaker and Monkey struggled and prayed over every second of this film. And it shows. For me, the last 5 minutes is some of the most inspiring art I have ever seen, anywhere. Watch the movie. If anyone is so moved, I might suggest a donation .. to underwrite more such videos in the future. It could be an investment worth ... even peace. -Dr. Mitch
Friday, October 12, 2007
I filmed “Prayer of Peace” over three months inside Karen State in 2006... but it really began in 2003 when the Free Burma Rangers approached me to help them put together a short film about the situation inside Burma and their part in it. From that time I have helped make a half dozen other films with the Free Burma Rangers. However, in this film I wanted to focus on characters within the situation and felt that if I was going to do this, I would need to shoot it myself. At first I was reluctant because of the dangers of being in the war zones, especially the idea of stepping on land mines. But after a few years I came to care more and more and became better friends with the Free Burma Rangers, especially Monkey, who became the focus of the film. In the end I decided I was going to have to take the risk and effort needed to capture what’s happening in the jungle hidden away from the world. So we have a film about relief workers caring for their people amid a human rights crisis in Karen State, Eastern Burma.
I spent two six-week trips with the Free Burma Rangers as they conducted relief missions in Karen State. I shot without trying to control any of the situations I was in. I never asked anyone to do anything for the camera, except interviews. I tried to keep my camera out of mind of everyone I filmed. I did this by being present, I interacted with subjects as much as possible and considered my work second. I came first to stand with them as a friend, not observer. I believe in their cause and while I didn’t exaggerate any aspect of the oppression of the Burma Army atrocities, you can certainly say I am sympathetic to the Karen. I was not objective in the process, but I believe I was truthful. I did research and painstaking translation to make sure I understood what people really meant and that I presented an honest story to the best of my ability.
After three months inside and over thirty hours of footage I started to edit without knowing exactly where the film would end up. The film is entirely chronological except for the three interviews, meaning that what happens in the film follows exactly how it happened on the trips I went on. Except that I cut in Day Htoo’s, Monkey’s and Saw Maung Hla Htoo’s interviews in different places for deeper understanding. I cut the film chronologically because I felt it would be more truthful. I wanted the film to be more than entertainment or propaganda. And while compressed and crafted, I tried to approach it as honest as I could, and I felt that chronology was key in this. I cut the film first to about one hour and then started working on the script. After I had a rough draft of the script, I had it translated into Karen language. For people to experience Karen State, I felt it should be in Karen, sight and sound. I wanted authenticity. Nothing I wrote in the script came only from me, it is what I learned from the Karen, their faces, heart, land, and also from the Free Burma Rangers. After translation by Pi Boo and others, I asked Monkey to rework the script into his own words, as he would say and feel it himself. This process took more time and discussion than one can imagine, but in the end I was pleased and felt like I didn’t write it at all. The three main interviews of Day Htoo, Monkey and Saw Maung Hla Htoo, each came from one-hour interviews done inside Karen State, all three locations had been attacked or were to be attacked within weeks.
The filming took place over three months and covered hundreds of miles on foot in Karen State, the editing took six months, but really it took several years to make the film. And it’s only 28 minutes long! I feel deeply grateful to the Karen for their hospitality and willingness to allow me to tell their story. It was a great honor to be in their homeland and I truly hope and pray for their freedom. I also am greatly indebted to the Free Burma Rangers for allowing me to work so closely with them. I wish to thank everyone who helped in making this film.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Another still I took inside Karen State. This was in an Internally Displaced Village somewhere in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. These children were looking after each other. I'm not sure where the parents were, probably looking for food. It was a desperate place, and I could leave. If the Burma Army came near they would run to another hiding area... and on and on it goes for them. I'm not sure what other people see but it reminds me these people exist in flesh and blood. They have hopes and want to live in peace... and the Burma Army is making life hell for a lot of people.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Last year I spent three months inside Karen State, Eastern Burma. Since leaving I suffer from what one might call survivors guilt, I'm haunted by memory. There are real people suffering under a dictatorship that would rather they be dead. They are a hunted people and like this boy I took a picture of, growing up knowing only war. I cannot do much about it, but together we can try. I urge you to do something on behalf of the people suffering in Burma. I propose three things: 1. Pray for Burma. 2. Support an organization of your choice that is doing something. Do research, find out who's doing something you can get on board with and help them do it. 3. You are a human with talent, use it some way to help. We're in this together. May God bless and keep you well.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Last night we screened "Prayer of Peace" at the Alliance Française in Chiang Mai. There was a great turn out and I appreciated everyones interest and questions. I hope we did our best to answer what we could. Thank you to everyone who came and shared the experience. I was grateful to help give voice to the villagers suffering in Burma. Thanks again for coming.