Up-and-coming Burmese filmmaker Khin Su Kyi won the best documentary award last month in Burma’s first youth film festival, for her second film, “Vaiolenz Against Violence,” which she directed, filmed and edited herself. The 21-year-old, who is earning a degree in law, spoke to The Irrawaddy about why she made the film and the challenges that women directors face in Burma.
Question: What is ‘Vaiolenz Against Violence’ about?
Answer: It is my first-ever documentary. It is a musical documentary about the lives of prisoners of conscience and how my father, despite being a musician, did not teach us music. This was my story idea.
Q: Why did you want to compete in the youth film festival?
A: I first competed in the ‘Human Rights, Human Dignity’ film festival [in Rangoon] and won an award with the movie “Article 18.” Then I decided to shoot a documentary, and I found an announcement about the youth film festival online. So, I planned to shoot a documentary about youth and I shot ‘Vaiolenz against Violence.’ ‘Article 18’ is about the peaceful assembly and procession law in Burma. The message I wanted to give through ‘Article 18’ was that while Burma’s Constitution provides freedom, articles are used to restrict it. ‘Vaiolenz against Violence’ is my second work, but at the same time it is the first one I have created single-handedly.
Q: Which award did you win with ‘Article 18’?
A: I made it together with two of my friends and it won the best documentary award at the student level.
Q: You said you made ‘Vaiolenz against Violence’ alone, so what difficulties did you face in making it?
A: I made it alone because I wanted to shoot it as a girl. ‘If men can do it, I will also be able to do it,’ I told myself. I made the documentary alone, from shooting to editing. I wanted very much to shoot the nightlife of youths. But because I don’t have lighting equipment, it was not convenient for me to shoot night scenes.
Q: How did you get the story idea?
A: Since the documentary is about youth, I tried to make sure young people would feel like watching it. If it was too long, it might get boring. My father is a musician and so are my brothers, so I’ve wanted to shoot a musical documentary for a long time. Then this idea coincided with the youth film festival and I happened to shoot it.
Q: What does ‘Vaiolenz against Violence’ mean?
A: Vaiolenz is the name of the metal music band formed by my brothers. It translates to violence. With ‘Vaiolenz Against Violence,’ I mean that the Vaiolenz band doesn’t like violence.
Q: How did you feel when the film won an award?
A: I was really pleased. I was also happy when ‘Article 18’ won an award. But I could not be happy completely because it was not made by me alone, and therefore I couldn’t say that I won the award because of my skills. As for ‘Vaiolenz against Violence,’ I made it alone and therefore it can be seen as proof of my skills.
Q: When did you start learning to be a director? Where did you learn?
A: I started a career in journalism two years ago. I loved the feeling of shooting with a camera when I became a journalist. I liked watching the photos or movies that I shot. My father also taught me. He was my very first teacher. In November last year, I started to attend documentary training given by [Burmese documentary maker] Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi at the Human Rights, Human Dignity Film Institute.
Q: What are your future plans as an artist?
A: Mainly, my focus is documentaries. I prefer documentaries and therefore will continue to shoot them. … Violence against women is rarely documented in this country and I want to shoot a documentary about that. Mainly, I want to document real lives and my experiences.
Q: What difficulties have you encountered as a female director?
A: In my opinion, men and women are the same since birth, and women must be able to do what men can do. To shoot with a camera is not a difficult thing in this age, but for a girl, there are difficulties. In this country and some other developing countries, women are not treated equally. Most of the time, the ideas of women tend to be rejected. I am not calling for priority to be given to women. I just want gender equality.
Q: There are many girls like you who like directing but dare not do it. What words of encouragement would you give them?
A: ‘Dare not’ can also mean ‘cannot afford to do it.’ To do directing, you need support. I still can’t afford to buy my camera. I shot with my father’s. Again, women are not able to focus only on work. They need to do household chores and there are women whose wishes are seen as less important than their family duties. For example, some women abandon their journalism careers after marriage. Their career is subjugated to family commitments. If husbands and wives share family duties and men support women as much as they can, women will be able to continue their chosen careers.
Q: Women are given more attention these days in Burma. What do you think of it?
A: Yes, the role of the women is more and more recognized these days. But, particularly, it is important that women are allowed to take part in decision-making. For example, there are internally displaced women and women that suffered violence during conflict. No one else, but only they themselves, will know how they feel. They should be taken into consideration in the peace process.
Q: How would you describe the life of youths?
A: Youths like freedom. They will do what they like. Parents will teach their children to make decisions on their own, as they have to walk by themselves. So, it is important that we make the right decisions. It is also important that youths do not misuse freedom, which would put them on the wrong track. So they should listen to the advice of their parents and make decisions on their own.