They call him Judge Jason Panella.
"Going to Burma is like going back in time."—Anonymous
Myanmar—known to many as "Burma," a name adopted during its time as a British colony—is a country of contrasts. It has an abundance of natural resources, yet is one of the most economically deprived countries in Asia. It is ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse, but is the second most isolated country in the world after North Korea. Myanmar's people are deeply faithful (Buddhism, mostly, but also minority religions like Christianity and Islam), have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and—judging from the documentary—are overwhelmingly warm and friendly. However, the country has also seen decades of horrible human rights violations, a merciless grip by the controlling military regime, and terrible government-run health and education systems that do more harm than anything else.
They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain was filmed over a two-year period by Cornell Professor Robert H. Lieberman, who clandestinely shot hundreds of hours of footage while visiting Myanmar on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Gorgeously filmed, I might add—sandwiched between India and Thailand, Burma benefits from a warm, rainy climate, and tons of shots just revel in the simple beauty of the Burmese countryside.
Lieberman liberally sprinkles his footage with unattributed voiceovers from Myanmar citizens, their anonymity maintained as protection from government retribution. Even some of the folks on camera have their faces blurred for the same reason. The director gives a brief survey of the country's history, from its time as a British colony to the mounting problems attributed to the distant, almost faceless military presence that ran the country until 2011. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition party leader who was under house arrest for most of her life, provides a calm and articulate take on the country's past and future (outlook: cautiously optimistic, especially in light of some recent positive changes).
These history focused sections bounce around a bit, and that meandering is a problem—albeit a minor one—with the documentary as a whole. It drifts around, spends a few minutes in a market, comments on the government control of the media, looks at the after effects of natural disaster, and so on. The best moments are those spent with the country's people. Despite the hardships they've endured, there's something joyful radiating from them. It's intoxicating. At around 80 minutes, They Call It Myanmar is just a primer on the country, and it does a wonderful job of being just that.
They Call It Myanmar is presented in standard definition 1.78:1 with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio; the movie looks and sounds just fine. The extras are skimpy, though: a few deleted scenes and the film's trailer.
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