Lom & van Egeraat: Burma Storybook

The first names of the filmmaking couple are Petr and Corinne.

Maung Aung Pwint is according to a text at the beginning of the film the ”most famous living dissident poet” in Burma/Myanmar. He was imprisoned several times for his poetry and activism, it is said, and he says to the film crew, ”let’s make a long poem together”.

And Petr Lom, director and cinematographer, does his best to live up to that challenge. He creates stunningly framed and composed images that do simply not ”illustrate” what films with or about literature often do. Klichés are avoided. Many images include the (English) texts of poems which are being read. These are Maung Aung Pwint’s poems or poems from younger poets and – if I got it right – other poets, who have been imprisoned because of their writing and activism. In many cases you simply see the poet reading the poem.

… a long poem together, yes an elephant with a man riding on top

 

of it walks to the water to drink, a man walks slowly in a kind of tai-chi in a street, three dogs are barking at him and the camera I suppose, a man plowing his land, and many other situations are caught with the camera. Sequences with no purpose for the story as such.

However, the film is for me primarily a love story with Maung Aung Pwint and his wife in the leading roles. I could have stayed with them during the whole film. The smiling wife who takes care of him, who has Parkinson’s, and can not write himself any longer. So she does the writing, and is being gently corrected, when he observes a misspelling. He never talks to her about his stays in prison, she only hears about that, when he gets visits from people, who were with him behind bars. ”In jail we could write more, that’s the good thing that came out of it”, he says, and adds some wonderful sentences about how he made friends with the ants in the small cell. The wife warms his feet, holds his hand when they take a walk, takes care of everything, that is the impression you get. There is a grandchild and there are poems/lines that refer to the childhood remembered. And it is very emotional when the son comes back from Finland to visit, the father and mother have not seen him since 1996. ”I thought that my father would come back if I sat at the river and caught a fish”, the son remembers from his childhood. A key scene, poetry, and many of the poems presented in the film are fine literature.

When you have the ambition of making one long poem, you face the risk of losing the red thread once in a while. And there are some moments, where I thought why… a car race in the city, a long water festival sequence, a kite that falls down burning, a young woman saying that women are not respected in Burma, fireworks… seems like the filmmakers thought that some information had to be conveyed. Necessary? But the poet and his wife, thank you for bringing them on screen. It IS an impressive film, and let me also tribute the music score by Geir Jenssen, never too pushy just adding to the film and its images.

The film will be shown at One World Festival in Prague this week, it will have its international premiere at CPH:DOX, is the closing film at Cinema du Réel in Paris beginning of April, and will be screened at Visions du Réel in Nyon.

Netherlands, Norway, 2017, 81 mins.

http://burmastorybook.com/#book

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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