Archive for documentary

Burma Soldier debuts on HBO2

Posted in burmese, documentary, fort wayne indiana, media, Myo Myint, refugee with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2011 by yearningtobreathefree

Myo Myint. © 2011 John Gevers.

After much anticipation, the new documentary about Myo Myint’s life debuts on HBO2 this Wednesday, May 18, at 8:00 pm EST.

The compelling documentary chronicles this Burmese man’s journey from being a soldier to incurring life-changing injuries on the war front to rethinking his position on Burma’s civil war to demonstrating for change in his country’s one-party rule system to being arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for a total of 15 years to fleeing for a refugee camp, to reuniting with other family by resettling in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as a political refugee. And he continues his fight for civil rights and freedom in his nativeland from his new homeland.

Myo Myint. © 2011 John Gevers.

This important new HBO documentary is A LeBrocquy Fraser/Break Thru Films Production. It is directed by Nic Dunlop, Annie Sundberg, and Ricki Stern; written by Annie Sundberg and Nic Dunlop; and produced by Julie LeBrocquy.

Additional air dates on HBO2 — all EST:
May 27 at 11:00 pm
May 31 at 2:15 pm
June 5 at 3:30 pm

Myo Myint. © 2011 John Gevers.

It was deemed best to make the Fort Wayne premiere of the movie an invitation-only event, and in preparation for that and the film’s HBO debut, Myo Myint provided interviews with local media. If you’ve missed the publications and airings, they are online at:
The Fort Wayne Reader
The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel
Northeast Indiana Public Radio 89.1 FM
The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
Indiana’s NewsCenter
Indiana’s NewsCenter’s INsight
WANE-TV News Channel 15
The Fort Wayne Monthly Magazine

Myo Myint and army jacket. © 2011 John Gevers.

Many thanks to local journalists Mike Summers, Ellie Bogue, Phil Shaull, Emilie Henry, Kim Meiser, John Hartman, Adam Widener, John Davis, and Bonnie Blackburn (in order of stories appearing) for providing such good local coverage.
jis zu theim bah deh
That’s “thank you” in Burmese.

Bonnie Blackburn and Myo Myint. © 2011 John Gevers.

Ellie Bogue and Myo Myint. © 2011 John Gevers.

Myo Myint and Phil Shaull. © 2011 John Gevers.

Steve Penhollow and Myo Myint. © 2011 John Gevers.

Emilie Henry, Myo Myint, and Kim Meiser. © 2011 John Gevers.

John Hartman, Emilie Henry, Myo Myint. © 2011 John Gevers

Adam Widener and Myo Myint. © 2011 John Gevers

John Davis and Myo Myint. © 2011 John Gevers.

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Media coverage of “Yearning to Breathe Free”

Posted in burmese, documentary, fort wayne indiana, media, refugee with tags , , , , , , , on April 12, 2011 by yearningtobreathefree


Indiana’s NewsCenter interviewed me about this documentary recently and the two-part, 10 minute interview can be viewed online here and here. The webpages load a bit slowly.

My thanks to the TV station’s Emilie Henry, John Hartman, and Al Crain.

BBC interviews Myo Myint of “Burma Soldier” documentary

Posted in burmese, documentary, fort wayne indiana, media, Myo Myint, refugee with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2011 by yearningtobreathefree

Click here for interview: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00f6sbq

In advance of the release of the documentary film, “Burmese Soldier,” the BBC recorded a 10-minute interview with remarkable Myo Myint who now lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The former Burmese soldier was badly injured by a landmine, left the army and joined the pro-democracy movement. Myo Myint was then put in prison and ended up spending over fourteen years there before fleeing to Thailand and then the United States.

For those of you in the Fort Wayne area, the movie about Myo Myint’s life will be shown during a special screening for our community at a date soon to be announced. Please check back here for details as they become known. “Burma Soldier,” narrated by Colin Farrell with music by U2, is a co-production of LeBrocquy Fraser Productions in Dublin and Break Thru Films in New York.

Karen celebrate New Year in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Posted in burmese, documentary, fort wayne indiana, Karen, refugee with tags , , , , , , , on February 8, 2011 by yearningtobreathefree

Karen traditional dance

Click here for video of Karen traditional dance.

The Karen people from Burma in this video, many of whom are refugees and who now call Fort Wayne, Indiana ‘home,’ gathered on January 30, 2011, to celebrate their New Year. This video showcases their traditional dance and music.

The 2:40-minute video is part of “Yearning to Breathe Free,” a documentary exhibition produced by John Gevers and NEW MEDIA BREW, Inc. It is copyrighted and all rights are reserved.

Still photographs from the video:

Karen traditional dance

Karen traditional dance

Karen traditional dance

Karen traditional dance

Video of images from documentary exhibition

Posted in Buddhist, burmese, documentary, muslim, refugee, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2010 by yearningtobreathefree

I produced this video featuring images made thus far for the documentary exhibition, Yearning to Breathe Free. Of course, there will be more to come, but I wanted a more engaging way of displaying my work up to this point.

Video and images © 2010 John Gevers, NEW MEDIA BREW, Inc.

Burmese soldier turned promoter of democracy. Myo Myint, part one

Posted in burmese, documentary, Myo Myint, refugee with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2010 by yearningtobreathefree

Myo Myint in Umpiem Mai refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border, June 2008. © Nic Dunlop. All rights reserved.

It is time to begin telling the story of a Burmese political refugee who has become a friend of mine since we were first introduced nine months ago. Myo Myint’s story is an amazing and inspiring and horrific tale. I will bring his life’s many facets to you in installments in the coming months.

If this whole endeavor I’ve named Yearning to Breathe Free should end prematurely and never result in a fully produced exhibition and/or documentary, at least I have met Myo Myint. We share the same middle-age decade, possess similar body types — except he’s missing some of his, and we share a love of literature. Oh, and we both like beer.

And that’s about where our similarities end. Our life experiences are vastly different. So different that it’s almost laughable . . . but for the fact that his tales make you want to cry. And herein lies the poignancy of our having met and become friends — a Westerner born into a democratic, free land and an Asian born into a one-party-ruled, brutal land — now both living in the middle of America.

A benefit, I think, to the United States of America opening her arms to offer refuge to those needing a new home is a rich worldly awareness that refugees bring into the lives of all of us.

So. Where to begin telling you about Myo Myint? For nearly five years now, a soft spoken, courageous Irish-born photojournalist and author, Nic Dunlop, has worked to share Myo Myint’s story in a documentary film. The movie is nearly finished and will soon air on HBO. I’ll post its air date here when it is known.

As an introduction to Myo Myint and my own storytelling of his life, I am posting the movie trailer here. Thanks to Nic’s kindness and permission, I will be illustrating Myo Myint’s considerable tale on this blog with Nic’s photographic images, as well as with my own photos, video, and scans of the few articles Myo Myint was able to conceal as he smuggled himself out of Burma and the torment of hell . . . .

Burma Soldier feature documentary, directed by Nic Dunlop, Annie Sundberg, and Ricki Stern.

A LeBrocquy Fraser / Break Thru Films production.

Bye-bye, see you tomorrow!

Posted in Buddhist, burmese, documentary, refugee with tags , , , , , , on December 31, 2009 by yearningtobreathefree

Min Myat © 2009 John Gevers.

Min Myat: a man of conviction and commitment

Min Myat goes to work each weekday at 2:00 in the afternoon. He doesn’t drive and his job is 85 miles away, so he pays someone else to drive him. After working a shift at the Tyson meat factory in Logansport, Indiana, he is driven back to Fort Wayne where he arrives home around 3:00. In the morning.

His wife works weekends, so it’s rare for them to spend much time together at home in their small, tidy apartment in southeast Fort Wayne.  His two daughters, ages 6 and 9, are off to school soon after he arrives home from work. “At least we get to see each other long enough during the week to say, ‘Bye-bye, see you tomorrow!’” he said with a laugh. “Even though we live under the same roof, we actually live separately.”

Despite his odd, long hours working in a pork production factory 1½ hours away, the 36-year-old Burmese refugee doesn’t grouse. Instead, he exudes a decided peacefulness. His elderly father, also a Burmese refugee who lives with his son and family, conveys the same gentle quietness and, in fact, often soothes the apartment with his violin playing.

Min Myat's father, Mya Sein. © 2009 John Gevers. All rights reserved.

Committed and responsible

“Before coming to the United States, I knew that I had to work when I got here,” Min Myat said. He started his job just a month after arriving in Indiana from Thailand in June 2008. “I am the person responsible for my family, and I have to work to provide for them.”

In Thailand, his job paid the equivalent to $100 U.S. each month. Here, he earns $400 each week. He is thankful for the wage but points out that he did not pay taxes or housing costs where he lived previously. Despite the burden of having to pay those expenses now, he said he accepts it and feels life is better in his new country.

Another new language to learn

Min Myat’s schedule hasn’t allowed time to take an English as a Second Language (ESL) class, but he would like to. “I work with white and black and Mexican people, so I’m picking up a little communication just by working with them  — enough to get by,” he said. “But I want to know more.”

He is no stranger to having to learn a new language to establish life in a new country. After he fled Burma and its military government in 1994 at the age of 21, he landed in neighboring Thailand. For the first year as a displaced person not speaking the native language, the best job he could find was in farming, plowing and cultivating vegetable plants. It proved to be very hard work for the strong-spirited, yet slightly built man, so he committed to studying the Thai language, hoping to find a different job.

Min Myat. © 2009 John Gevers. All rights reserved.

National politics, not party politics

“I really wanted to learn the language so that I could help the Burmese people living inside Thailand. This was national politics, not party politics,” he said, making the distinction because he had fled Burma and the harsh treatment and party politics of its ruling military government.

Conviction at a young age

“I don’t like the Burmese regime because they are a dictatorship, and I have always been against the rule of a dictatorship,” Min Myat said. As a 15-year-old boy, he participated in Burma’s student-led August 8, 1988 (8888) democracy uprisings and demonstrations against the military regime. It ended just weeks later after thousands of demonstrators were killed fighting for the end to one-party rule.

Family ordered into forced labor camps

When the military put a bloody end to the demonstrations and took over state power, they ordered all Burmese families to go to labor concentration camps, Min Myat said.

“They ordered me and my family to do forced labor inside Burma. There’s nothing we could do to deny this forced labor imposed by the military government,” he said. The government ruling Burma since that time is known as SPDC, which stands for State Peace and Development Council. They renamed the country Myanmar, a name most Burmese who have fled their homeland refuse to use.

“Wherever the military government wants to build a new road or paint a new building, they order the Burmese to do the forced labor without any pay,” Min Myat said. “They are afraid that if Burmese people have free time, they will discuss politics and be against them. The military government also doesn’t have much money and, therefore, cannot pay for labor, so they exploit the Burmese people as forced labor,” said the man who now works hard and long hours at a distant job as he establishes a new – but free – life in a democracy. He wants only to provide for his family and ensure that his children receive a  good education.

Min Myat © 2009 John Gevers. All rights reserved.

It’s sure I would be arrested one day.

“The military government in Burma wants to show its power by ordering people to work for them for no pay,” Min Myat said.  “And if you deny their orders, they will show you their power by arresting you. We were very against the military government, so the military was very much against us. I decided I could not live in Burma because if I lived there, it’s sure that I would be arrested one day.” A fate some of his friends and relatives have realized.

After fleeing his homeland for Thailand and learning the Thai language, he organized a small group of people who assisted Burmese families living in the Thai refugee camps when they needed medical attention at health clinics and hospitals. Min Myat became an interpreter for his fellow countrymen in their temporary host country and made some money in the position he created for himself.

Playing role of peacemaker

He is quick to point out that the interpreter  service also helped improve relations between the Burmese and the Thai clinic owners. Burmese refugees are given no legal resident status in Thailand and, therefore, tensions can run high between the races. By opening lines of communication, Min Myat played peacemaker.

He went on to help establish a school on the Thailand side of the Thai-Burma border where many of the refugees live while enduring years of uncertainty — awaiting resettlement. And there’s no guarantee there will be resettlement options for everyone. Not many countries currently accept even limited numbers of refugees needing a safe new country to call home. Min Myat became a teacher in the school for 300 Burmese children refugees. In that role, he learned a bit of English — a skill he now needs to further as he starts yet another new life in a different country.

He and his wife had their two children during the 14 years they lived in Thailand as refugees from Burma, but he fretted knowing their future was limited there.

Min Myat © 2009 John Gevers. All rights reserved.

Living in limbo

“Even I had no documentation, no residency permit, no citizenship,” he said. He and his family, like most other refugees, were living in limbo, barely carving out an existence with no real home and a doubtful future.

“I knew my children were going to grow up, but they would not get a good education inside Thailand,” Min Myat said. “So I decided we needed to move to another country.”

He and his wife applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as political asylum seekers. That was 2004. They waited through four more years of uncertainty before being granted admission to the United States.

Fear even of the police

“Living in the United States is better than living in Thailand or Burma. In Burma, everybody is afraid of the police. Yes, even the police!” he said. “We were afraid they were going to arrest us because the government oppresses the people in all ways. And they take bribes.” He explains that in his home country one can call the police for help, “but you have to pay them some money in order to get any help.”

Min Myat also reports being afraid of the Thai police because he and his family had no residence permit. “Thai police are the worst bribery-taking police in the world,” he said.

One of the biggest benefits, in fact, that Min Myat sees to being in the U.S. now is that he and his family do not have to be afraid of the police. “Here, the police are friends of the people,” he said. “You can even shake hands with every policeman here. So I believe this is a better life for me and my family.”

Living room shrine to Buddha. © 2009 John Gevers. All rights reserved.

Buddhism:  ancient and flexible

Min Myat and his family are Buddhist and he finds comfort in the freedom to practice their religion where it’s a guaranteed right. He brought with him Buddhist teaching books and, in addition to attending the two Buddhist monasteries in Fort Wayne, he teaches his children his religion’s principles and impresses upon them the need to obey the teachings of the Buddha and of their elders and teachers.

“Buddhism is a very ancient and flexible religion,” he said, and it provides an important touchstone for his family as they straddle far different cultures. There is a shrine to Buddha in a corner of the apartment’s living room where a television set would be more likely. Min Myat’s father proudly showed prayer beads displayed around the family’s Buddha statue. They were made by cousins who remain inside Burma and inside prison for going against the ruling military regime.

Mya Sein with prayer beads. © 2009 John Gevers. All rights reserved.

Longing for change

Min Myat finds purpose in providing for his daughters and believing they will become well educated now that they’re living in the U.S. He is driven by knowing that he must work and save to pay their educational fees in the years ahead. He longs for the day when there will be change in the political system of Burma. And he envisions a day when he and his family can go back to their home country.

“My hope is that my educated daughters will then be able to help solve problems for the Burmese people,” he said. “That is my hope.”