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by Rose Finlay

The Myanmar Film Collective, Netherlands | Myanmar | Norway | 2022

One of the biggest struggles I often have with many of the various documentaries at film festivals is how little context they give the viewer. The audience is presented with a subject matter about people or places somewhere in the vastness of Earth, often with only the barest amount of explanation of the complex reasons behind why these events are unfolding. The result is that the audience is then manipulated into emotions or opinions without having enough knowledge to have truly learned anything worthwhile about the subject. MYANMAR DIARIES is a perfect example of a film put together with a clear focus (the criticism of the violent military coup of 2021) without giving a real explanation of how the country got to where it is.

MYANMAR DIARIES is a collection of short film diaries directed by a collective of anonymous filmmakers in Myanmar during the coup of 2021. The footage was smuggled out of the country and shows a perspective of the situation on the ground in the country that is not shown on the news. Some clips show the violence on the streets and abductions of people, others are more fantastical and scripted, but all depict an enormous amount of suffering and chaos. On a purely human level, it is easy to feel for the people of Myanmar throughout the film who are shown being beaten, murdered, and kidnapped and who call for their democratically elected leaders to once again be reinstated. The film’s message is clear: democracy has been overturned by a military junta and it is unjust, cruel, and criminal. Undoubtedly this is true, but the context that has not been given is how that democratically elected government is the very one which was involved in the genocide of the Rohingya people while also prosecuting journalists and limiting free speech within the country. This obviously does not absolve the military junta of its horrible human rights abuses, but it does begin to complicate the simplistic narrative the film gives of a safe and just democratic nation dramatically usurped.

While MYANMAR DIARIES is certainly disturbing and compelling to watch, it is important to take into account that its lack of context makes it a piece of emotionally driven propaganda that does little to enlighten audiences who don’t already have a good understanding of the situation within Myanmar. No doubt it will make waves, as it does show a large amount of human suffering which pulls at the heartstrings, but it does little to show a way forward to end the human rights infractions against the people in Myanmar.