294th Meeting – Tuesday, October 2nd 2007

"Prayer of Peace: Relief & Resistance in Burma's War Zones"

A talk and film presentation by Matt Blauer and Saw Doh Say, a Free Burma Rangers relief team member

Present: Ronny Lavin, Peter Thomson, Peter Gore-Symes, Marie Burrows, Bob Vryheid, Jiruttigan Sinlapasunan, Lindy Santitharangkul, Tom Wilkinson, Tina Noga Bjerno, Kay Braithwaite, Jack Eisner, Alex Brodard, Andrew Adam, Rich & Sylvia Gorsuch, Dara Samuelson, Glynn Morgan, Ray Brubacher, Allan Eubank, Michael Tuckson, Marlin Weber, Crist Yoder, Som Supaparinya, Bodil Blokker, Mael Raynaud, Mike Long, Somchar Santitharangkul, Guy Cardinal, Satawat Williary, Georg Mueller, Chris Lowenstein, Jeff Moynihan, Annette Kunigagon, Paula Meyer, Susan L. Tipton, Nicholas E. Osmanski, Kevin Woods, Chris Cusano, Nathan Koch, Kyle Christensen, Jay Robin, Vincent Lewmiler, Benet Copeland, Noi Copeland, Trasvin Jittidecharak, Carol Grodzins, Ken Kampe, Mike Williams, George Boffet, Susan Offner, Winnie Tan, Ben Strobridge, Amihan Jones, Lauren Merriman, Sonya Kalnin, David Steane, Sachiko Yasuda, Elizabeth Kalnin, Anoy Collins, Ken Dyer, Timmi Tillman, Marusa Casas, Roger Casas, Thomas Ohlson, Michael Berbae, Beryl McKeown, Jonathon McKeown, Tawee Donchai, Richard Nelson-Jones, Dorothy Engmann, Nang Saeng Moung Lee, Victoria Vorreiter, Kalyn Hale, Harmony Galford, Terry Gamble, Sarah Adam, Tadayuki Kubo, Sara Emilsson, Faith Cougill, Drew Solyst, John Heller, Hay Mar Soe, Andi Scher, Becky Chrisman. An audience of more than 85.    

"Prayer of Peace: Relief & Resistance in Burma's War Zones" is a 28-minute documentary film about relief workers caring for their people amid a human rights crisis in Karen State, Eastern Burma. 

A summary of the presentation
On the front line of conflict deep inside Burma “Prayer of Peace” follows ethnic relief workers as they aid internally displaced people suffering under the Burma Army.  Focusing on a female medic and a pastor/human rights cameraman, the film reveals a people that have maintained their dignity and hope for peace despite the odds. This documentary was filmed over three months on the frontline in Karen State on relief missions with the Free Burma Rangers.

"Since I was a child I have never known peace. We've always had to run from the Burma soldiers. When my family was sick there was no medicine. We would look for help but there was none. Because of this my parents died in the jungle. So I decided to be a nurse." – Day Htoo – FBR Nurse

"I started this work in 1998. At that time I saw the Burma Army soldiers come and the villagers had to flee into the jungle. As they fled I took photos with a still camera. When people looked at the pictures I tried to explain but I couldn't explain very well. I wanted the pictures to open their hearts to the situation. I thought to myself if I had a video camera it would be better, to have the villagers speak for themselves." – Saw Monkey - FBR Pastor/Cameraman

"If all the Karen leave the Burmese will be happy. For this reason I will not leave. God put me here. I was born here so I will stay here. And I will die here. This is my decision." – Saw Maung Hla Htoo – Villager elder

The filmmaker and Saw Doh Say, a Free Burma Rangers relief team member, answered questions relating to the film and its subject.

Matt Blauer is a filmmaker focusing on human rights in Southeast Asia. His work has been screened in remote villages, at film festivals, before U.S. Congress, the UN, and on news and television worldwide. His films aim to give greater voice to those suffering and those working on behalf of others.

Saw Doh Say fled urban Burma in 1988 after the student uprising and subsequent military crackdown that left thousands dead. He joined the Karenni resistance and was severely wounded while fighting against the Burma Army. He later joined the Free Burma Rangers as a way to help his people and work for positive change in Burma.

The Free Burma Rangers are a multi-ethnic humanitarian service movement. Free Burma Rangers relief teams travel into Burma's war zones to provide emergency medical care, shelter, food, clothing and human rights documentation. The teams also operate a communication and information network inside Burma that provides real time information from areas under attack. Together with other groups, the teams work to serve people in need.

Brief Burma background:

Burma is one of the least developed and worst managed countries in the world. The current regime rules the country with fear and suppression. In the cities they jail the opposition, in the ethnic areas they burn their homes and kill them; men, women and children. Since independence from Britain in 1948 the country has been at war with itself, particularly between the Burman governments and ethnic separatists who seek equality and self-determination. The ethnic villagers have been suffering ongoing violent oppression for over half a century and the recent violent crackdown on peaceful protests in Rangoon and elsewhere remind us the cities are not free from oppression either.

Background on the film making process by the filmmaker:

I shot “Prayer of Peace” over three months inside Karen State in 2006. But it really began in 2003 when the Free Burma Rangers approached me to help them put together a short film about the situation inside Burma and their part in it. From that time I have helped make a half dozen other films with the Free Burma Rangers. However, in this film I wanted to focus on characters within the situation and felt that if I was going to do this I would need to shoot it myself. At first I was reluctant because of the dangers of being in the war zones, especially the idea of stepping on land mines. But after a few years I came to care more and more and became better friends with the Free Burma Rangers, especially Monkey, who became the focus of this film. I decided that if I really wanted to help I was going to have to take the risk and make the effort needed to capture what’s happening in the jungle hidden away from the world.

I spent two six-week trips with the Free Burma Rangers as they conducted relief missions in Karen State. I shot without trying to control any of the situations I was in. I never asked anyone to do anything for the camera, except interviews. I tried to keep my camera out of mind of everyone I filmed. I did this by being present; I interacted with subjects as much as possible and considered my work second. I came first to stand with them as a friend, not observer. I believe in their cause and while I didn’t exaggerate any aspect of the oppression of the Burma Army atrocities, you can certainly say I am sympathetic to the Karen. I was not objective in the process, but I believe I was truthful. I did research and painstaking translation to make sure I understood what people really meant and that I presented an honest story to the best of my ability.

After three months inside and over thirty hours of footage I started to edit without knowing exactly where the film would end up. The film is entirely chronological except for the three interviews, meaning that what happens in the film follows exactly how it happened on the trips I went on. Except that I cut in Day Htoo’s, Monkey’s and Saw Maung Hla Htoo’s interviews in different places for deeper understanding. I cut the film chronologically because I felt it would be more truthful. I wanted the film to be more than entertainment or propaganda. And while compressed and crafted, I tried to approach it as honestly as I could, and I felt that chronology was key in this. I cut the film first to about one hour and then started working on the script. After I had a rough draft of the script, I had it translated into Karen language. For people to experience Karen State, I felt it should be in Karen, sight and sound. I wanted authenticity. Nothing I wrote in the script came only from me, it is what I learned from the Karen, their faces, heart, land, and also from the Free Burma Rangers. After translation by Pi Boo and others, I asked Monkey to rework the script into his own words, as he would say and feel it himself. This process took more time and discussion than one can imagine, but in the end I was pleased and felt like I didn’t write it at all. The three main interviews of Day Htoo, Monkey and Saw Maung Hla Htoo, each came from one-hour interviews done inside Karen State - all three locations had been attacked or were to be attacked within weeks.

The shooting took place over three months and covered hundreds of miles on foot in Karen State, the editing took six months, but really it took several years to make the film. And it’s only 28 minutes long! I feel deeply grateful to the Karen for their hospitality and willingness to allow me to tell their story. It was a great honor to be in their homeland and I truly hope and pray for their freedom. I also am greatly indebted to the Free Burma Rangers for allowing me to work so closely with them. I wish to thank everyone who helped in making this film.

For more information please contact: Matt Blauer – Filmmaker – Tel. 081-866-1720

E-mail matt@frontfilms.com Website www.frontfilms.com

Silkworm Books is distributing “Prayer of Peace” on DVD in Thailand. DVDs are available in Asia Books and Bookazine outlets and Suriwong Bookstore. And on the filmmakers website at www.frontfilms.com

After the question and answer session, the meeting adjourned to the Alliance Cafeteria where members of the audience engaged Matt and Saw Doh Say in more informal conversation over drinks and snacks.