Tin Win Naing’s own ex­pe­ri­ences as a po­lit­i­cal ex­ile in­spire his award win­ning doc­u­men­tary ‘In Ex­ile’

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - NANDAR AUNG

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.

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