Filming the Real in Myanmar (Yangon Film School)
By Lindsey Merrison and Hnin Ei Hlaing - Speaker
Since 2005, the Berlin-based non-profit organisation Yangon Film School has brought together international practitioners with budding young Myanmar filmmakers for regular workshops on all aspects of filmmaking but with a particular emphasis on documentary. In the past seven years the school has succeeded in navigating the considerable constraints that until very recently prevailed in Myanmar in order to provide training for over fifty Burmese students. During this time YFS has produced over fifty short films, many of which have screened at international film festivals and some of which have even won awards.
In this talk, the school’s initiator, Anglo-Burmese filmmaker Lindsey Merrison and one of the school’s students, HninEiHlaing (whose film Burmese Butterfly is screening at the Göttingen festival) will examine the challenges of filming the real in an autocratic culture, describe the school’s mentorship programme and outline its current transition to becoming a Myanmar-run media resource.
Born in Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State in 1985, Hnin Ei Hlaing entered the film industry with a diploma in computer art with the Forever Group and subsequently worked as an editor for MRTV4. Since joining YFS in 2006 she has worked as a regular sound recordist and/or editor on a number of YFS productions (including An Untitled Life, The Change Maker and A Bright Future). She says she knew nothing about Myanmar s gay scene before deciding to make this portrait of her hairdresser. Burmese Butterfly marks her first film as a director.
Lindesy Merrison, Director and Producer, was born in Britain in 1959. She studied English and film studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury, graduating with a first class honours degree in 1981. Moving to Berlin at the end of the same year, she began her career as a film curator, during which time she devised film events for venues all over Germany, such as a festival of British experimental film and a major retrospective of the work of Derek Jarman. A regular translator (for Helma Sanders-Brahms, Rudolf Thome and Heinz Emigholz among others) and an occasional writer, Lindsey also has a number of publications to her credit, including a study of the British film industry and a short book, The Complete Derek Jarman.
Lindsey Merrison joined the film industry in 1985, working as Ken Loach's assistant on the Channel Four/ZDF co-production, Fatherland. She was subsequently awarded a bursary from the German government's Filmförderungsanstalt to train in film production, and worked on a variety of German-produced features and documentaries by Roland Klick, Helga Reidemeister and Jeanine Meerapfel among others. Her linguistic abilities and her knowledge of both German and English cultures was an invaluable asset when working as assistant director to Australian filmmaker Ian Pringle and British director Stewart Mackinnon.
Lindsey Merrison's producing career began in 1989. Perceiving her role as a creative one long before the term 'Creative Producer' became common currency, Lindsey has always made a strong artistic contribution to all her projects from co-writing the treatment to fleshing out a structure for the final film, writing commentary and inter-titles. Lindsey's documentary credits as producer include Frances Calvert's Talking Broken, a witty portrait of the Torres Strait Islanders, Australia's 'other' indigenous minority; Last Year in Germany, a major cinema documentary by four German directors for Channel Four and BayerischeRundfunk chronicling the year from the fall of the Berlin wall to the reunification of Germany; Two Men, about two brothers who meet after a lifetime spent on opposite sides of the Berlin wall, and Frances Calvert's multi-award-winning Cracks in the Mask, about the repatriation of artefacts from the world's greatest museums to their original owners in the Torres Strait.
Founding her own production company in 1993, Lindsey made her debut as a director in her own right in 1996: Our Burmese Days, which she also produced, documents the filmmaker's journey with her Anglo-Burmese mother and uncle back to the country of their birth, where a tragicomic drama on the meaning of the past and cultural identity ensues. Lindsey returned to Burma (now Myanmar) for her award-winning documentary Friends in High Places (also producer), about a lively cult peopled by talented mediums, many of them homosexual, that makes life under one of the world's harshest regimes more bearable. In the wake of both her Burma films, Lindsey has taken part in discussions and seminars in Germany and abroad on topics such as the filming of personal histories, gender and the post-colonial approach to filming other cultures.
In 2005 Lindsey and seven other experienced filmmakers mounted the first Art of Documentary Filmmaking workshop in Myanmar, during which they trained 12 young Burmese men and women to develop their own skills as documentarians. Lindsey has since mounted a second workshop, The Art of Documentary Editing (2006), and founded the non-profit organization, Yangon Film School - Association for the Promotion of Young Burmese Film and Video Artists, with the aim of setting up a permanent school in Yangon with a regular curriculum. This series was expanded in 2009 with the release of Stories from Myanmar, which showcases the work of participants of the 2007 Yangon Film School workshops in Myanmar.