TALES OF LIVES IN EXILE
Tin Win Naing’s own experiences as a political exile inspire his award winning documentary ‘In Exile’
TIN WIN NAING knows what it means to be an exile. His career as a budding young filmmaker came to an abrupt halt during the Saffron Revolution in 2007, when, fearing for his life, he was forced to flee Myanmar, leaving behind his family, friends and even his camera.
At the time scores of local video journalists, known as “VJs”, responsible for shooting the now iconic footage of the military’s brutal crackdown on protestors, went into hiding amid a wave of arrests by the military intelligence.
“I heard my film crew had been arrested but I didn’t know why,” said Tin Win Naing. “Everything was terrifying for us. We were living a nightmare at the time and we didn’t trust anyone. I was especially afraid of men with short hair who wore white stiff collar shirts because I thought they were from the government intelligence service.”
Tin Win Naing managed to flee to Mae Sot in Thailand, known among his political exile friends as the ‘land of freedom’. But on arrival he saw the reality was much different. In escaping hardship in Myanmar, he saw his countrymen, which at the time numbered between 2 to 3 million, had found themselves trapped in a foreign land as modern day slaves.
“I saw most of the migrants were Myanmar. I wanted to know why they had left their land to work here so I talked to them to find out what their reasons were,” the 43-year- old told Pulse.
In 2010, Tin Win Naing with the help of another exiled film maker, Kyaw Ko Ko, began capturing what they saw and heard on film. In Exile, which premiered in Myanmar for the first time last week at the Wathann Filmfest, follows four Myanmar migrant workers in their struggle for survival as they work in slave-like conditions at sugarcane and corn farms.
Ma Cho and Ko Zaw, a couple, can’t see a time when they’ll be able to return to their homeland; Kyaw Moe Win is a 12 year-old-boy who dreams of going back to school; and Myint Thein, the restless migrant worker who went as far away as Dubai in search for work only to end up in more hardship.
The 72-minute-long documentary journeys into the hearts and minds of people who, after fleeing from struggle, must confront physical and mental abuse in their new foreign home. But it also shows us that even after all hope is lost, these exiles manage to keep their spirits up and culture alive.
“They are afraid of the Thai police so they live silently,” said Tin Win Naing. “But they still don’t know that they are trapped.”
It took over a year to capture all the footage for In Exile, which was mainly shot in Phop Phra District in Tak Province, Western Thailand, all the while Tin Win Naing was himself working and living as an illegal laborer in Mae Sot.
Set just after the 2010 general election, the film captures the aftermath of an outbreak in fighting between the DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) and the Tatmadaw in Kayin State: thousands of scared refugees fleeing across the border to Thailand.
“I was captured and threatened by Thai border police while I was shooting the film and living as a migrant,” he said. “Even though I was a political migrant and these people are economic migrants, we were the same, there was no end to our fear.”
Completed in 2016, In Exile made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last year.
Thom Powers, the organiser of TIFF’s documentary film section, said of the film’s central characters: “Theirs is a world of exploitation and danger, but also of solidarity and resilience.”
Since then it has done the rounds on the international film festival circuit. This year, at the Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston, In Exile was awarded The Best Human Rights Film.
At the end of the film appears photos of the four main characters accompanied by text which explains that they are still in Thailand, trying to work their way to freedom.
“I felt sorry that I could come back but they couldn’t,” says Tin Win Naing, holding back tears. “I hope somebody does something for them after watching my film.” He now has plans to show In Exile in rural areas along Myanmar’s western border with Thailand, a main source for much of the country’s cheap labour.
“Sometimes, I want to quit this job but I can’t. It’s in my blood and I’ll keep following my instincts until my very last breath.”
A scene from the documentary film In Exile sees entral character 12-year-old Kyaw Moe Win working on a corn farm.
A scene from the documentary film In Exile sees a truck full of migrant workers on their way to work in the morning.
A scene from the documentary film In Exile shows migrant worke
Filmmaker Tin Win Naing is seen filming a scene from his film In Exile.
ers walking through a field.