Burma Storybook is a creative documentary about a country emerging from years of dictatorship, told through Burmese poetry.
The film circles around the story of the country’ s most famous dissident poet alive today, as he waits for his long-lost son to return home, having inspired fellow prisoners and younger generations to take up the pen.
This sensually saturated and in every sense poetic film screens as part of CPH:DOX 2017 on 21 & 23 March in Copenhagen, Denmark. Anticipating its screenings, we profile the film’s Amsterdam-based Director Petr Lom.
Describe the visual strategy behind the film? How did your approach to the film’s photography develop over its production? Was there ever a moment of significant adjustment from your original vision?
That is a fine question – and a question we don’t usually get about documentary film, which is a pity. This film is a cinema film, and the cinematic storytelling in the film is as important as its narrative story. The film is meant in structure and in its visual form to be a poem – to mimic and be reflective of the beauty of the words of the poets themselves. This means it had better be beautifully shot. As well there has to be an equivalent meaning in the images themselves – they can’t be just beautiful wallpaper. This was the approach, but reading these words now it sounds a bit too abstract as well: I work in an intuitive way with the camera and love to look through the viewfinder, and love cinematography. I have also evolved in my skills as a cinematographer in my career – and the improvements in technology have also made that much easier now. I worked above all with a super16mm 16-132 mm lens, which allowed me tremendous visual freedom and a range that I have never worked with in the past.
With the film hitting CPH:DOX, describe how you plan to further expand its accessibility to wide audiences? Where has the film screening thus far? What type of reactions has it met?
Our film is doing fantastic on the world documentary festival circuit – we are being invited all around the world: IFFR Rotterdam, One World Prague, CPHDOX – of course – then Nyon, Cinema du Reel Paris (closing night film), Docaviv, Warsaw, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Istanbul – we are going everywhere.
We also had a wonderful cinema release in the Netherlands, the film was released in twelve cities. And how about this as an audience reaction: someone saw the film in the cinema in the Netherlands, and were so moved by the film they decided to pay for the airfare of main protagonist’s son – who lives in Finland – and who returns home to see his father after twenty years of exile – and this is part of the film – to now come back to Burma so he can see the film together with his parents.
Festivals and cinema release are wonderful things, but much more important for us is what we are planning to do in Burma with the film. The audience that matters to us by far the most is in Burma – for the film is about enduring suffering of sixty years of dictatorship in this country.
And so we are planning a free mobile cinema tour throughout Burma – supported by the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs. Our goal is to reach an audience of two million people. We see the film as a contribution to beginning a debate in Burma about dealing with historical injustice and national reconciliation – new subjects which still are largely taboo.
We will begin in the fall and will be running a crowdfunding campaign to support our project. You can sign up for our newsletter at our website: www.burmastorybook.com If you donate one euro, one person in Burma will be able to see our film for free.
Can you talk a little about the design aspects of the film’s branding…for example, choice of font, color, and the development of its poster. How do you view the branding strategy of the film?
We work with a wonderful poster designer – Shosho – from Rotterdam. He worked on our film and is extremely talented.
We have two posters, however. One is for a western audience (the pagoda/bridge poster) – this poster is however perceived as “too touristy” by the Burmese. So for the Burmese audience, we have an alternate poster which has a stronger political tone to it (the black pen on red background.)
How would you say the filmmaking infrastructure in the Netherlands aided in getting this film made?
Of course crucial. The film was produced with the Netherlands Film Fund and Dutch broadcaster IKON/EO.
Finally, if you could describe your film in one word, what would it be?
BEAUTIFULTHEBESTFILMEVERMADEWILLMAKEYOUFALLINLOVEWITHBURMAFOREVER – is that one word?