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On Sunday, September 11, Move, the film directed by ERI alumnus Khon Soe Moe Aung, saw off competition from six other locally made films to win Best Local Documentary Film at Wathann Film Festival in Yangon, Myanmar. The community-led film exposes the ongoing challenges of a community in Thilawa, just outside Myanmar’s commercial capital, Yangon, as they face the development of the country’s first Special Economic Zone.

Move was produced in 2015 during the inaugural EarthRights Exposures training in partnership with the Bertha Foundation, and with assistance from Tagu Films. This training connected young talented community workers with video to inspire change. The film crew included Thilawa community member, Wine Chit Aung, and Win Cho from Kyauk Phyu, working alongside Khon Soe Moe Aung.

The 16-minute documentary film is set within a cemetery inside the proposed investment zone at the time the government has provided notice of the appropriation of the land for the project. The storyline revolves around some villagers temporarily working as undertakers to dig up the body of their neighbor as his widow watches. As they dig up the grave beside his widow, they share their experiences of the development project with the documentary film crew. The film elicits a sharp contrast between the humor and courage of the villagers and the half-hazard and negligent approach of the developers.

Khon Soe Moe Aung and his crew came upon the situation by chance. He described what he saw as he worked with them to film the scene.

“At the time, I could see they were worried for their future because they used to earn their livelihood by fishing. But, because of the project, they have to move. They are worried for their livelihood, what they are going to work on and what kind of job they will have.”

This reflected some of the complaints villagers directed at the various groups implementing the project which include the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Myanmar government and a number of Myanmar and Japanese companies. These complaints included a lack of consistent communication on relocation and a disregard for protecting the livelihoods of the communities. Without livelihood protections, many villagers alike the undertakers in the film face very serious job insecurity now that they are unable to practice their traditional fishing.

Khon Soe Moe Aung provides his own message to future investment projects.

“Because of the big projects in Burma, many people, especially grassroots local people, have to move for that. So if either the investor or the government does not have a special plan for those people that have to move, they will definitely face a lot of difficulties. It is already happening across Myanmar.”

The success and acclaim of ‘Move’ has shown the effectiveness of video as a tool to bring the reality of earth rights abuses to the wider public in Myanmar. However, it has also shown that development abuses continue to occur in mega-development projects and the rights of the people affected by these projects are as fragile as ever.