Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Thousands of copies of a documentary film recounting the horrors of life in the Burmese army are being downloaded, copied and circulated in Rangoon and other cities in Burma.
Within one week, since a Burmese language version of the film ‘Burma Soldier’ was made available on the Vimeo site on March 24, online viewings have jumped from a handful to a daily total of several thousands. On Tuesday, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported 22,000 viewings on its Facebook fan page site.
Secretly made copies of the documentary are being left in Internet shops and surreptitiously handed on to customers, according to one of the film’s directors, writer-photographer Nic Dunlop.
‘Burma Soldier’ features a former Burmese army soldier who reminisces about life as a soldier and describes the atrocities he witnessed during his service in Kachin and Karen states. The Tatmadaw is recognized as the most brutal and repressive army in Southeast Asia, responsible for brutally suppressing pro-democracy demonstrations and clamping down on ethnic groups.
The ex-soldier, Myo Myint, who now lives in the United States, offers a rare insight into the workings of the 400,000-strong Burmese Army.
Filmmaker Dunlop said he first met the former soldier at the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners office in Mae Sot. ‘He told me his remarkable story, and the film arose from that’.
‘Burma Soldier’ will be premiered by the US company HBO in May.
‘Myo Myint’s father was an army doctor, so the young man grew up in a military milieu,’ Dunlop told Mizzima. ‘His ambition was also to join the army. His father, who had witnessed much battlefield bloodshed, advised him not to join an infantry regiment and he became an army engineer’.
Myo Myint did not escape battlefield experience, however, and lost a leg and an arm while helping to clear a minefield. He was subsequently invalided out of the army with a small pension and with a reinforced will to join a new fight—the widening campaign to end the human rights abuses of a brutal regime.
‘Myo Myint was a reluctant witness to unbelievable acts of brutality by the army he was serving’, said Dunlop. ‘Killings, rape, torture, forced labour and portering. He says he never participated but was powerless to stop it’.
‘Intimidation reigns in the army ranks. Nobody speaks out because there are informers and military intelligence people everywhere’.
In a telephone interview earlier this year with the New York Times, Myo Myint, 48, confirmed that fear prevented Burmese soldiers speaking out.
‘There are so many soldiers serving in the military who secretly support the opposition but cannot expose their feelings’, he said. ‘While the top ranks control and repress people, most soldiers are like me’.
If they did speak out, said Myo Myint, ‘they will be sent to prison and a very heavy imprisonment’.
Despite the harsh conditions, low pay and inadequate equipment, young men joined the army because it offered them steady employment and a certain status, Myo Myint said.
After leaving the army, said Dunlop, Myo Myint ‘realized he had to do something useful with his life, so he established a small library and made contacts with rights activists’.
Myo Myint joined the 1988 uprising, was later arrested and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Following his release, he escaped to Thailand and was selected in 2008 for resettlement in the US, joining his brother in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Dunlop and Myo Myint are sure the film will find a wide audience among soldiers and their families in Burma. Myo Myint told the New York Times: ‘I hope that after watching the film, some soldiers will think about their actions and their treatment of civilians, whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust’.
Dunlop describes the effort to reach a wide audience in Burma with the film as ‘reverse pirating’—a process of smuggling a film into Burma instead of out of the country. The most famous example of a film made with material smuggled out of the country was the award-winning documentary ‘Burma VJ’, the story of the 2007 monk-led ‘Saffron Revolution’, which was mostly the work of so-called amateur ‘video-journalists’ working inside Burma.
Dunlop has also won awards with his Burma-related photographs. His has also written an acclaimed book on Cambodia, ‘The Lost Executioner,’ describing how he tracked down the infamous Khmer Rouge prison chief, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, who is currently appealing his sentence for the death of thousands of Cambodians during the Pol Pot era.
‘Burma Soldier’ will be shown at a special screening at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok on Wednesday, March 30.