TIFF Docs

In Exile

Tin Win Naing

Burmese filmmaker Tin Win Naing documents the plight of migrants who have fled the civil war in Myanmar for refuge in Thailand, and now toil as plantation workers in conditions tantamount to slave labour.

Having filmed politically sensitive events such as the Saffron Revolution, Tin Win Naing fled his home country of Myanmar in 2009. The nation's brutal dictatorship had begun sweeping the country, arresting anyone suspected of critiquing the government, and Naing was certain to be targeted. Forced to leave his wife and children behind, Naing crossed illegally into Thailand, where he encountered the Burmese migrants who toil as plantation workers in conditions tantamount to slave labour. Theirs is a world of exploitation and danger, but also of solidarity and resilience. Naing had never before been outside of Myanmar, but he recognized the material for a powerful documentary.

Naing partnered with producers Yasmin Rams, who joined him on-site for eight months, and Rodney Charles, whose production support rose to the extreme technical challenges of shooting in such sequestered locations. The team's effort shows in every frame of In Exile.

In the work of the best documentary cinematographers, you can feel the person behind the camera transmitting their curiosity, sorrow, or delight. Naing possesses this gift. We experience his sympathy for the migrant children who are sent to work instead of school, and we share his admiration for the parents persevering against adversity. He has an eye for simple pleasures, such as workers celebrating a young couple's wedding, and for expansive images: landscapes, burning crops, the magic hour of the sunset.

Myanmar began a new period of hope in 2010, when stateswoman and democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi was finally released from years of house arrest. Naing returned to his country and his family, but his subjects are still working in Thailand to this day. This beautiful work of deeply compassionate first-person filmmaking is a testament to their struggle for justice.

THOM POWERS

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