A breezy location along the Ayeyarwady River, Pyay is the most interesting stop on the Yangon–Bagan Highway. The city, whose glory days date back to the ancient Pyu capital of Thayekhittaya, was the venue of Barcamp Myanmar 2015.
Representing EngageMedia, I participated in Barcamp Pyay, which was held over July 11 and 12 at a Basic Education School and attended by over 3,500 people. The camp was teeming with crowds of attendees delivering speeches and taking part in lively discussions.
The morning panel on the first day of the camp addressed opportunities for youth leadership in development, mostly in entrepreneurship, open-source and civic engagement.
On that day, I conducted a session called 'How to Make Films on Low Cost Devices', where over 20 people attended. I delivered this topic with the Yangon Heartz organization, who are holding the first Smart Phone Film Festival in Myanmar. I also briefly introduced how to deal with digital security issues for videos.
Since the Barcamp is an unconference which doesn't make use of any slide presentations, I just used entries in my notepad to deliver the main contents of the talk. This unconference format worked really well to bring people and ideas together in a non-formal setting.
On the second day, I ran 'How to Subtitle Online', where Myanmar Barcampers asked a lot of questions because they've had no experience in using online subtitling tools like Amara. This was a very active session and our room was pretty noisy from all the excitement!
After my presentations, I took part in other sessions and led discussions on topics such as 'Google Maps for Businesses', 'Social Networks and Innovation', and 'Love Problems of Youth', which was of course very popular!
In this Barcamp, the organizers focused not only on technology, but also agriculture, civilization, archaeology and education. This made Pyay Barcamp very different from the other Barcamps we've had in the past, and made it much more memorable for me. You all can have a look at all of the fun activities on the camp's Facebook page.
So, would you like to join the next Barcamp in Myanmar?
In all of our events, we try to ensure the inclusion of gender perspectives. For starters, we push for a gender balance among the participants. We're not always successful however, since the film, video and even documentary industry, as any industry in public domain, is still dominated by men.
Our approach to Camp Chindwin, our Southeast Asia Video Camp, was no different from any other events that we organized in the past. But this time, we worked harder for the presence of more women film/video makers from the region by giving more exposure of our online application to women. And it paid off. Many great film/video makers in the region applied, and as a result we achieved a balanced gender composition.
Gender balance is always a good start, but applying gender perspectives in the work is a must, so that the women feel really present and own the space. While it is very important to treat gender issues as intersecting ones, having specific spaces to talk about women’s rights are needed.
With the open space methodology that we used, I offered two sessions specifically on gender. One was about what it means to be women filmmakers and the other one was on how to make films where women victims of violence were subjects. Both were discussions and experience sharing sessions.
The first session on women filmmakers involved women from Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. It struck me, yet didn't really surprise me, that the experiences shared were very similar from one country to another. There was a slight different experience from the Philippines however, where the women’s movement has advanced more, compared to the other countries in the region.
The discussion was mostly around the experience of being women working in the film industry, whether as directors, camerapersons or editors. Most of the women shared how difficult it is to get film project opportunities compared to their male counterparts. We were trying to understand the reasons as to why the people running the industry believe more in the ability of men than women, especially when the films were about or to be shot in conflict zones. The latter always used the excuse of protecting women, while never attempting to investigate other factors that often times give an advantage to women in such situations.
The session also discussed how we, as women filmmakers, often have to work harder to prove ourselves and show that we are as qualified as men or even more. We came to discuss strategies on how we could work and be treated equally as men. We tried to find out what works, what doesn't, and came to an agreement to build a network of women filmmakers in Southeast Asia to support one another and share opportunities that might rise in the future. A network that we are currently working to make a reality.
In June, our Crossroads video collection on migration was screened for the 15th time in Malaysia this year. The screening was hosted by the Migrant Ministry under the Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese Office of Human Development and attended by Malaysian parishioners of the Good Shepard Church.
Malaysia is one of the top destinations for migrant workers in Asia, where there are an estimated two million documented and two million undocumented migrant workers, according to a recent UN report. With limited coverage by the mainstream media and growing xenophobia, Crossroads screenings such as this one to an all-local audience provide good opportunities to foster empathy and understanding.
An extensive discussion was held after the five selected films, which began with how the current system of oppression faced by migrants is unlikely to stop as it benefits many groups such as agents, enforcement officers and related business entities.
There was a question from the floor on whether the videos could be used as evidence or basis for police reports. It was explained by Fajar from migrant rights NGO Tenaganita that hard evidence such as documents, photographs and medical reports are needed, although reports can nonetheless still be lodged.
One of the audience members shared that she worked in a factory and even though all the workers there had legal documents, they were still harassed. And when they tried to lodge a police report, they were told that the online reporting system at the police station was coincidentally offline.
The discussion then shifted to refugees and asylum seekers, where Fajar explained the difference and overlap between migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees.
He added that although the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was allowed to operate in Malaysia, they are also in a weak position because Malaysia has not ratified the UN Convention on Refugees. This means that the country does not officially recognise or accept asylum seekers and refugees and so is not required by law to provide medical, educational or any other facilities to the tens of thousands who are currently stateless there.
More than 50 years on, a group of survivors revisit a prison camp in the Buru Islands. Buru is best known in Indonesia as a place where political prisoners used to be exiled and isolated because they were or were assumed as members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI/Partai Komunis Indonesia) during the New Order era.
The fall of New Order and the emergence of the Reformation Era in 1998 have triggered ex-prisoners to revisit the prison without fear. They tell stories of their suffering in silence, memories about loss, and unspeakable trauma while trying to recall the violence that happened in that different period. There are many accounts of people who lost their lives simply because they had the same name as someone the authorities were looking for.
Kotak Hitam Forum has been working to document these stories on video, and screening them to students in classroom settings to encourage better understanding and debate on history. One such story is that of Mia Bustam and Lekra, a social movement made up of artists and writers which was banned by the then President Suharto (view subtitled version here).
It's said that there are 224 prisoners who do not want to go home and remain living in Buru farming in paddy fields as it has fertile land, which shows that they are dealing with the past, ignoring marginalization and stigma. But some others, surely, wanted to go back to Java and other places in Indonesia.
In 1978, Hersri Setiawan, one of the ex-prisoners, was going to back home. He said, “Buru was a symbol of slavery, a symbol that I was not free. But I wanted to be free, whatever might happen on Java. However, Buru is a part of my life that cannot be taken from me.”
What is the state of freedom of the press in Myanmar, which is currently the 9th most censored country in the world? This and other questions are addressed by Irrawaddy Media, an independent media organisation covering Myanmar and Southeast Asia from a Myanmar perspective.
In this blogpost, we highlight three videos from Dateline Irrawaddy, their discussion programme which features members of Myanmar’s media landscape, civil society and government.
Freedom of Press in Myanmar
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has ranked Myanmar the 9th most censored country globally in 2015. Despite recent reforms, at least 20 journalists have been arrested since 2013 and 12 media workers are currently serving prison sentences.
This episode of Dateline discusses press freedom in the country with speakers U Kyaw Zwa Moe, Editor of the English edition of The Irrawaddy, U Ko Ni, High Court Advocate and Ko Myint Kyaw, Secretary of the Myanmar Journalist Network.
Peace Process and Women's Safety
A discussion on the guarantee of women’s lives in civil war zones following the gang-rape and murder of two Kachin Christian school teachers in their church compound in the Northern Shan State.
The participating speakers include Ko Kyaw Kha, an Irrawaddy reporter and Moon Nay Li from the Kachin Women's Association in Thailand (KWAT).
The 2015 General Election
Myanmar’s next general election is scheduled to happen in late October or early November this year. Irrawaddy asks special guest speaker U Tin Aye, Chairman of the Union Election Commission (UEC), about the credibility of the upcoming polls.
View more discussions and special report videos from Irrawaddy Media here.