Friday, October 12, 2007
the making of
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.