Remember Burma?

0 Posted by - November 4, 2011 - Blog, Friday Film Pick, Screen

A short while back, Bryan Farrell, who also writes for WagingNonviolence, told Slate readers about a short web doc called “Happy World.” A peak inside the bizarre dictatorship currently gripping Burma, the doc blends satire and observation to reveal the absurdity of the ongoing regime. The film lacks real analysis, but is a solid compendium to Burma VJ and other documentation on a country that held the world’s attention for, sadly, not long enough. With all the buzz squarely focused on the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, it’s good to remember the people in Burma, a country where a massive social movement was unable to topple a brutal dictatorship.

From Farrell’s article:

While posing as tourists—since that’s the only way to legally enter Burma as a foreigner—the two French filmmakers behind Happy World uncovered a number of arbitrary and oftentimes laughable measures employed by a regime known more for its brutality than its silliness. For instance, traffic patterns are based on horoscope readings; currency was once divisible by the junta’s lucky number, 9; and people are superstitiously forced to grow a shrub called kyet-suu, because its name is the inverse of democracy leader (Aung San) Suu Kyi’s.

Among the more bizarre moments of the 30-minute film is a visit to the Drug Elimination Museum, which the junta created to divert attention away from the fact that it is profiting from the country’s opium trade. If the public is being fooled by this charade, then there must be some other reason no one goes to this giant three-story paean to prohibition: The filmmakers were its first visitors in ages.

While stories like these are unlikely to surprise the people of Burma, that’s not the aim of Happy World. It’s trying to educate a Western audience through a blend of satire and caricature that simultaneously deflates the regime’s reputation. Aiding that effort is a slew of bonus features, which are billed as part of the film’s experimental “hypervideo” experience. From informative newspaper articles and activist literature to an hour’s worth of TV, audiences are able to take advantage of the Creative Commons learning experience. If they like it, they’re advised to spread the word through a clever web app that pretends to censor their Twitter pages.

All of this may not add up to the real-life political thriller that is Burma VJ, but it gives a thoroughly entertaining starting point from which to understand how oppression can build to the point of absurdity, which is ultimately a very dangerous thing.

Check out the Happy World site here.

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