Altered Focus: Exploring Burma’s Political Regime via Skateboarding
What human rights have to do with the human desire to glide on skate ramps.
By Maria Popova
In 2009, four British blokes — James Holman, Alex ‘Pas’ Pasquini and Ali Drummond — set out to explore an unseen side of Burma, officially known as Myanmar, though an uncommon lens: skateboarding. The result was Altered Focus — a wonderful cross-genre documentary that captures everyday life in Burma through locals’ reactions to skateboarding. The film remixes archival footage of protests with skateboarding scenes across the cities of Yangon and Mandalay, exposing the complexities of the political regime and civic life in Myanmar through the seemingly simple vehicle of skate culture.
It’s not uncommon for people to come away from a trip to Myanmar thinking, ‘Yeah that place wasn’t so bad, people were smiling all the time, everyone seemed happy, I don’t know what all the fuss is about’. Well there rightly is a lot fuss and you won’t find the reason behind all of it from a trip to Bagan or Inle Lake. All one needs to do is take a short mo-ped ride out of one of the small towns around Mandalay and you might well come across people in chains digging up the road and officials with whips. Forced labor happens in Myanmar everyday but generally not in the places the government will let you access easily, if at all. You can still find it though if you stray only a little off the path. However incomplete this film may be, I hope we will at least be able to show people a side of Myanmar they didn’t already know about.” ~ Ali Drummond
The beautiful 19-minute documentary — filmed on DVCAM and Super 8mm, which gives it a warm glow appropriately akin to that of Locals Only — is now available for free online in its entirety, an absolute treat that will make you uneasy, make you smile and make you see this misunderstood culture with new eyes.
If this gave you the urge and urgency to dig deeper, you won’t go wrong with Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s Prisoner of Conscience — the engrossing and fascinating story of the Nobel laureate celebrated as one of the world’s most notable political activists against tyranny and genocidal violence.
Published June 17, 2011