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Documentary Inspires Effort to Free Zarganar, Burma’s Most Famous Comedian

Documentary Inspires Effort to Free Zarganar, Burma’s Most Famous Comedian

On May 18, Burma released a few dozen of its estimated 2,200 political prisoners. But Zarganar, the Southeast Asian nation’s most famous comedian and one of the most active government critics, remains behind bars.

Zarganar’s political humor has long been scrutinized by Burma’s military government. His films have been censored and banned. In 2006, he was barred from participating in the entertainment industry all together.

In November 2008, Zarganar was sentenced to 59 years in prison (later reduced to 35 years) for speaking out against the Burmese government in foreign media outlets.

Prompted by his imprisonment, British filmmaker Rex Bloomstein decided to look back at the footage he had taken of the comedian in 2007. Working with the Cinema For Peace Foundation (CFPF), Bloomstein and German comedian Michael Mittermeier turned Zarganar’s struggle against human rights abuses in Burma into a full-length documentary.

We spoke with the CFPF about “The Prison Where I Live” and their efforts to to free Zarganar.

——-

Bloomstein and Mittermeier’s journey to “reveal how important Zarganar is [to Burma]” was not without its difficulties. Notorious for its appalling human rights record, Burma holds a tight grip on the media and bars a number of international news organizations from reporting in the country. During their secret trip to Burma, the filmmakers:

Encounter the fear and oppression of living under a dictatorship with constant surveillance by government informants. Friends and colleagues of Zarganar with whom they arranged to interview will no longer speak – even passersby flinch from the camera – all due to government intimidation. Despite this they film the prison where Zarganar is held and eventually manage to smuggle this footage out of the country.

But despite their difficulties, the filmmakers and the CFPF did not relent on their mission to bring Zarganar’s story to the world. They were determined to produce a film that would:

Share [Zarganar's] thoughts and feelings, his stories of arrest and torture, that would tell how he survived five years of solitary confinement. A film that would reveal to the world his humility, his identification with the ordinary people of Burma and his fearless opposition to the Generals. But, above all, a film that could form the heart of a campaign to alert the world to the terrible injustice of Zarganar’s imprisonment.

——

In the past few months, Burma has made nominal efforts to address its political prisoners. They’ve reduced the sentences of some prisoners by one year and taken the death penalty off the table for others. But as Elaine Pearson, the Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch commented, Burma’s efforts “[are] a pathetic response to international calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners.”

Take Action: Zarganar has more than 30 years left of his prison term. Show your support for Zarganar, and all political prisoners in Burma, by signing the Cinema for Peace Foundation’s petition.

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Photo credit: iStock

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34 comments

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12:26PM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

I agree with Hannah.

I found another great Burma documentary called Nickel City Smiler...great movie!

3:45PM PDT on Jun 3, 2011

thanks

6:02AM PDT on Jun 3, 2011

The government of Burma can't face the truth about themselves. But they have let the world know what it is.

10:43AM PDT on May 28, 2011

Think yourself lucky you do not live under dictatorship...not just Burma....try china....you dont know the half ot it!!!

1:29AM PDT on May 26, 2011

Release the laughter......

such is the remedy.

Good doctor for all our ills.......

11:34PM PDT on May 24, 2011

This is the saddest story. No laughing allowed, we must be serious at all times! No fun allowed! No love allowed! No life allowed! Sounds like hell to me.

1:25PM PDT on May 24, 2011

you know you're looking at a government with a problem when making fun of it leads to 60 years in jail....

9:10AM PDT on May 24, 2011

Signed.

6:32AM PDT on May 24, 2011

THANK YOU

6:32AM PDT on May 24, 2011

THANK YOU

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