Notes from candle light vigil for Burma :: DIY film lessons for activism :: Impossibilities and indie film
I got to the International Buddhist Center (which is primarily a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple) in Wheaton, MD around 6:30 PM tonight, with about 50 candles in hand. I was not sure about how many people may show up to the event. By 7 PM there were about 60 - 75 people at the temple; Sri Lankans/Sri Lankan-Americans, Burmese/Burmese-Americans, & other Americans - mostly Sri Lankans in the crowd - ready for the candle light vigil. The head monk at the temple, Bhante Uparatana, introduced the event. Brief speeches about the situation in Burma and in praise of activism that celebrates & supports the Burmese pro-democracy movement were given by a lay (non-monastic) staff member from the IBC and also by Dr. Sein Win, Prime Minister of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB). The 7 or so Buddhist monks present chanted, candles were lit, it was a beautiful & moving sight & experience. In closing the event I said a few words and thanked everyone who came out for the vigil. People donated money at the event (I had a donation box there for USBC - US Campaign for Burma), and we hung out after the official ceremony and made some new friends (a big hello goes out to Aung Kyaw & his wife, and also to everyone else I met tonight), talked about the situation in Burma. Mr. Tin M. Thaw, a board member of USCB, was at the event, I handed over the donations to him (a huge thanks goes to everyone who donated money). All in all it was a very positive evening. One of no doubt hundreds or however many that are necessary/that will keep happening until democracy reigns in Burma. Thanks goes to, once again, everyone who made this event a success.
DIY film lessons for activism
Organizing the candle light vigil for Burma was not a difficult task for me since I had organized & produced over 50 DIY film screenings over the last few years. A venue was needed (in film a movie theater, in this political/religious event a Buddhist temple), co-organizers were needed to get the word out about the event (i worked with USCB & NCGUB & the head monk at the ICB for this event), fliers were needed as they would be for a DIY film screening (and since I have experience creating fliers - due to the many I've produced for screenings, it was very easy for me to put together a good flier for the event), and essential tools had to be delivered to the event location (a donation box, candles, fliers). Plus, the confidence or I guess the experience needed to call anyone relevant up, to call strangers, and enlist them in some form in your project, was gained by having to call up theater bookers, potential volunteers, press, etc. for screenings over the years. So, the skills that are required to produce a DIY screening can also be used for producing events of possibly greater use to the world; such as a candle light vigil & a fund-raising event for a group of people struggling for democracy.
Impossibilities and indie film
Maybe it is because I have been concerned, and dealing with, on a daily basis with the many low budget film/indie film production & distribution obstacles for so long that, at this point not many things - not even the removal of a brutal military dictatorship from power through political activism - seems like a thing that is totally outside the realm of possibilities (surely much work by many is needed, but it does seem possible). Even if I am wrong, just feeling that difficult things are not impossible to accomplish is, I think, overall a positive & useful thing - a gift from engaging in indie filmmaking I think. Also, I have hope re: the Burma situation because far more vicious & deeply entrenched oppressive systems were removed or completely changed in the past due to a combination of political & economic activism, including non-violent protests led by religious leaders. Here I speak of the end of apartheid in South Africa, end of segregation in the US, fall of the Berlin wall, and, to some degree, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Who knows how things will go in Burma, but the Burmese over there & elsewhere in the world seem deeply committed to their cause, and it feels to me like that they will prevail. Maybe that's just my indie filmmaking experience fueled optimism speaking, maybe it is just wild hope, but I do think that pro-democracy groups will come to power in Burma relatively soon. You never know how a real indie film might turn out or that if it will even get finished, but you commit to the process and get the work done, and often, later if not sooner, there are good results - I see the same happening now with the pro-democracy movement for Burma; people are deeply committed and they are getting the work done.