They Call It Myanmar: Lifting The Curtain (2012)
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Critic Reviews for They Call It Myanmar: Lifting The Curtain
It still works, so buoyed is the film by its open and honest take on a subject that would have been all too easy to turn into another marketable tragedy.
A solid and subtly moving portrait of the people of Burma by filmmaker Robert H. Lieberman.
The film provides one of the ultimate functions of a documentary, taking us into the life and culture of a people most of us would never know.
While "They Call It Myanmar" is certainly more encouraging than previous films on this long-repressed country, fears of persecution continue to loom large.
Audience Reviews for They Call It Myanmar: Lifting The Curtain
We are given a gentle, touching narrative of the Myanmar people, largely a Buddhist nation which had an authoritarian government and lacks severely in education and human rights. Many children who were asked said they only had 1 or 2 years of school. No one can afford it. Child labor and the trafficking of young girls is heavy. And as in other countries in the area, there are hundreds of cultures and many different languages. It is hard to bring a country together that has so many different ethnicities, cultures, and potentially values. We get an informative glimpse at the past 80 years of Myanmar's history, environmental challenges, living conditions, and citizen's perspectives. My main complaint with this documentary may be an unjust one, but it felt a bit limited in the same way that a person's vacation footage only narrowly covers the country they explored. But since cameras were forbidden during the time of this production, the limitation is understandable, and Director Lieberman does provide a nice interview with an admirable and hopeful voice of democracy - only this politician, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, had been under house arrest for 15 years at the time of the film's production. Since then, some promising governmental moves have taken place and she has been released and elected into parliament. Her party, National League for Democracy, won 43 of the 45 seats available during the 2012 by-elections, after being unbanned just the year before.
Robert Lieberman, a physics professor at Cornell University, is given a grant from the State Department and various NGO's to go to Burma to train people in technical matters. While there, and at no small risk to himself, he uses a video camera to film. With his footage and commentary from people who are very familiar with the country, he compiles a documentary, "They Call It Myanmar," which is insightful, yet occasionally repetitive, going beyond just a simple travelogue of the tourist sights to talk to ordinary people in what has been termed the second most reclusive country on the planet.(One would have to guess that North Korea is #1.) This is due to a military government that has ruled over the country for about the past fifty years, without the usual cult of personality, causing Burma to stagnate into a state of decay where the infrastructure crumbles and social institutions including health care and education, as children usually complete about a year of education before going off to support their families, have become too expensive for the common person to utilize.(Even in times of greatest need like a cyclone a few years ago that killed over 100,000 people, they have kept the country isolated, not accepting outside aide, in order to maintain their power in the 'kleptocracy.') As a result, the more educated people leave the country, while others do so but not of their own choosing.
Lieberman also spends a good deal of time exploring religion in this devoutly Buddhist country and uses it to explain the reaction to the monks being attacked by government troops a few years ago. At the same time, he uses the people's supposedly fatalistic attitudes in explaining why they have not risen up to rebel. In reality, most societies, even those repressive like Burma's, exist firmly rooted in a status quo until a spark sets them off. At least there are signs that things are starting to turn around politically since Lieberman is able to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi who was under house arrest for decades.
An insightful documentary into Burma, "They Call It Myanmar" provides an in-depth look into the daily lives of this most reclusive Southeast Asian nation. It shows how, despite the hardship and political oppression, the people of Burma are able to withstand all that with a smile. And at the end of the documentary, the audience are left not just to wonder about whether the Burmese people have gotten enough help from Western countries. We are also left with a hope, because even in the darkest of places, there are communities and groups of people who can always find a reason to smile.
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