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Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to filmfestivals.com

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New York: Burma themed films – Retrospective of Midi Z

The New York Asia Society presented from March 6 – 13  Homecoming Myanmar, the first US screening of the films by Midi Z, a Burmese-Taiwanese film maker.

Under the military dictatorship the once vibrant Burmese film industry was destroyed and is now slowly recovering; overcoming the obstacles of having no film infra-structure and competing with pirated films. Midi Z was born in 1982 in Myanmar to ethnic Chinese parentage and raised there. He left at the age of 16 for Taiwan where he learned film making and frequently returned to his home country while acquiring an international reputation.

As forced by his circumstances, Midi has developed a unique approach to directing three features thus far, Return to Burma (2011), Poor Folk (2012), and Ice Poison (2014). Produced independently on budgets ranging from $5,000 to $30,000 with inexpensive digital cameras his films are semi biographical and involve nonprofessional actors, and sometimes members of his family. Actors are selected on the basis of their life experience with their stories incorporated in the films. The films are scripted but because participants play their own life spontaneous shooting is part of the stories. They talk about their experiences and engage in their normal behavior in scenes frequently interwoven with popular music about love and longing. Midi’s crew consists of three people: himself, the sound person, and a camera man, and as a result the crew’s impact on the setting is minimal. When shooting in Myanmar caution is applied since Midi lacks the mandatory permission to film. Work is done undercover, sometimes pretending that the film makers are tourists or training students.  Because of his unique approach grounding his films, Midi’s work has a strongly appealing documentary touch conveying authenticity and compassion.

 

The problems of Myanmar are manifold. Many young people leave for other countries after junior high school because there is no other exit from pervasive unemployment. In spite of the toppling of the military regime, economic changes in Burma have been very slow with persistent severe short comings in the education and health sector. There is widespread poverty, displacement, internal and external trafficking of women, drug use as well as diaspora and minority problems.  These issues provide the thematic backbones to Midi’s films.   

In Return to Burma a young man, played by the director’s childhood neighbor, returns from ten years construction work in Taiwan to Burma. There, life is impoverished and the anticipated prosperity and business opportunities are not found. Friends and relatives are ready to leave for work in other countries and there is a pervasive sense of alienation and disillusionment, reflecting the reaction Midi had when he returned to Burma after ten years. POOR FOLK tracks the fate of Burmese emigrants in Thailand. A-Hong is desperate for money to buy back his sister who was sold to traffickers and gets involved with the local drug lord trying to sell ingredients for amphetamine. He comes across a Chinese Burmese Woman who traffics young girls to Thailand and happens to smuggle his young sister, who was sold by their mother. ICE POISON depicts the descent of an impoverished young farmer, Xing-hong, into the drug trade. Having raised funds for buying a motor bike he cannot make a living because there are not enough customers. He is persuaded by Summei to deliver drugs with her so she can make enough money to bring her son back from China. In this area of northern Myanmar bordering China, dealing drugs is very profitable, though dangerous. Summei gets busted on a delivery; he escapes but is as impoverished as he was before, though now addicted to drugs.

Midi’s features are enlightening with their novel approach to socio economic issues   transforming the disadvantages he faces into creative and compelling film making.

 

Claus Mueller

filmexchange@gmail.com

About Claus Mueller

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