During the first ever Burma Spring Benefit Film Festival, which takes place from June 4-13, film fans world-wide can view over 30 movies online while learning more about the country via a series of daily live forums. “We hope to reach many people with real information about what‘s happening in my country right now,” says Kenneth Wong, a Burmese language teacher at UC Berkeley who is one of the festival organizers. “Between the films and the speakers, attendees will get a wide range of views, both historic and current — and understanding of a complex country — a truly historic event.”
Among the titles screening are acclaimed films like Aung San Suu Kyi—Lady of No Fear, Ghost Fleet, Burma VJ, Golden Kingdom, My Buddha Is Punk, and Burma Soldier. Categories include documentaries, dramatic films, shorts and a range of topics that explore Buddhism, women’s issues, the environment and more. While the majority of the online titles have been released over the last several years, Burma Spring 21 will receive its premiere as part of the festival. The short film was shot and edited by an anonymous local filmmaker during the early days of the recent military coup, and vividly captures what it’s like to be on the ground in the country right now. “The films are grouped by categories, offering a range of content around key issues related to the human rights, social and political landscape of Burma/Myanmar,” says fellow festival organizer Jeanne Marie Hallacy. “They were selected for the strength of their storytelling and filmmaking craft and relevance for a general audience to understand the country’s prolonged struggle for democracy and human rights.”
The inaugural festival was created by a group of San Francisco-based activists and filmmakers who wanted to raise awareness about the humanitarian and civil rights issues that have arisen after the Myanmar military dismantled the democratically elected government on February 1. Since that day, well-known State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint have been detained, while thousands of citizens have been arrested and hundreds of unarmed protestors reportedly killed. “There’s an urgent need for funds to provide humanitarian aid to the growing numbers of refugees on the borders, as well as to support the nonviolent democracy movement in a country completely controlled by the military,” says Wong.
In order to educate viewers about what is currently happening in the country, a series of live panel discussions will also be held throughout the festival. They will feature human rights defenders, humanitarian workers, journalists and academics who are well versed on the current struggles within Burma’s borders. One of the expected highlights will take place on June 11, when two ministers from the National Unity Government will speak for the first time to an audience of global viewers.
How To Watch
To watch films or attend the forums, viewers are required to register at the festival’s website. There movie-goers are also able to make a voluntary monetary donation, with all proceeds going to recognized non-profit group International Network of Engaged Buddhists, who will in turn distribute the money to essential grassroots organizations within the country. Once registered, festival attendees can view films anywhere, at any time. The speakers forum, however, has a strict schedule. “The festival is open to anyone globally and no one is turned away for lack of funds,” says Hallacy. “Viewers register on the website and can receive a full pass to all films and events through June 13th. Films cannot be downloaded or viewed after the festival.” There are no plans to make the festival an annual event, though organizers claim they are open to the idea — and may even extend this year’s event — if the response is good.