This Prison Where I Live

di Rex Bloomstein 2010 UK 52'




This is a film about two comedians. Maung Thura, better known as Zarganar, is Burma’s greatest living comic. Relentlessly victimised by the Burmese military junta, he is now in prison. Michael Mittermeier, in stark contrast, is free to practise his art of humour and provocation as one of Germany’s leading stand up comedians. Two men joined by comedy and separated by repression. Like many of Burma’s leading dissidents, Zarganar has been silenced. He has been jailed on a series of trumped up charges for his outspoken criticism of the government after leading a private relief effort to deliver aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis, and for trying to alert the world’s media to the junta’s criminal failure to respond to a human catastrophe. He was condemned in 2008 by Burma’s generals to 59 years behind bars, now reduced to 35 years. The genesis of this film begins in 2007, when Zarganar agreed to be interviewed by the British documentary filmmaker, Rex Bloomstein, despite being banned from all forms of artistic activity and talking to foreign media. Over two days Bloomstein and his team interviewed Zarganar in depth in his flat, showed the cinemas that are prevented from screening his films, the bookstalls not allowed to sell his plays or poetry, and the makeshift TV studio where his fellow comedians rehearse on a stage that he himself is forbidden to tread. Footage which has never been seen or broadcast before. Equally irreverent and famous for tackling taboo subjects in his comic routines, Michael Mitttermeier has extended the range of comedy and satire in the German speaking world. Hearing of Zarganar’s fate and seeing the footage, Michael joined with Rex Bloomstein to make a film about this man who has paid such a price for speaking out against the regime. Together with a small team, they travelled secretly to Burma. This Prison Where I Live is a feature documentary and is the story of Michael’s exploration into the personality, the motivation and the talent of the man who describes himself as the ‘loudspeaker’ for his people. Michael visits the same locations: Zarganar’s flat, the streets with their cinemas and bookstalls, the same hall and the same stage. All now empty of his presence. Artists, actors, comedians – Zarganar’s contemporaries – were contacted to go on camera to give further insight into this remarkable and courageous man and why he takes such risks. But Michael and the team encounter a climate of fear, where people are terrified to speak out. Will Zarganar’s fellow artists choose to go on camera with all the potential consequences in a country that locks away and tortures its dissidents? How close can he get to the prison where Zarganar is held in Myitkyina, northern Burma? Will he and the team be arrested or deported? Zarganar is a man who has not taken the path of armed struggle against a tyranny in the way that so many have in different parts of the world. An artist whose weapons are satire, films, books, poetry and comedy. For Michael Mittermeier, the restrictions and terrors of living under a ruthless military machine resonates with him in terms of recent German history. Observing Zarganar heightens his understanding of what it was like to live under the Third Reich or the East German Stasi. He discusses the parallels that run between himself and Zarganar, who first hand is living the dilemmas of practising humour under a dictatorship.