FILMATIQUE: What first inspired you to represent the lives of Buddhist monks on film? What is your experience with that subculture?
THE MAW NAING: The Buddhist monk society plays quite an important role in Myanmar. Our culture is deeply rooted in the Buddha's philosophy. People learn the Buddha's Dharma from monks and in turn support the monk society.
Following a long period of control by the military, the monk society is on the brink of survival. The military destroyed everything such as our healthcare system, our education system and our business and political societies. The majority of people in Myanmar live in poverty and most young people don’t know exactly what they want to be, due to the country's lack of a proper education system. I wanted to show this situation.
Each parent introduces their children to Buddhist monk society around the age of 12 or 13. I experienced the novice life when I stayed at a Buddhist monastery for one week at age 12. During this time we ate only two meals per day and learned Buddhist literature. I also liked hanging around like the novice in the film.
FLMTQ: Has there been criticism from Burmese audiences in regard to your representation of monkhood?
TMN: The film was released in local festivals in 2014. The people responded to the film quite fine. But when we screened at the Singapore International Film Festival in 2014 many Burmese people got to see it, because many live there. Some people didn't like it because we only see the poverty of the monks. They said the film placed shame on Myanmar. What they don't know is that over 60% of monks are finding it difficult to survive. Some people appreciate this, and are proud to have such a good film come out of the country after 40 years.