- 1998 Sundance Film Festival
Ellen Bruno returns to Sundance (her Samsara and Satya were presented at previous festivals) with an alternating dreamlike and nightmarish vision of young Burmese girls sold by their families as prostitutes in Thailand. The opening image, which recurs throughout the film, is a hazy, colorful vision of a very young girl performing a traditional dance by a fire. Her costume, in stunning shades of red, is augmented by her mature makeup. This almost hallucinatory shot is a powerful leitmotif: the young naïf, dressed and acting like an older woman, with a sad, vacant expression foreboding an ill-fated future.
The documentary begins with a sweep of Burmese historical, political, and social references. The girls who are led to “sin” (their word) hail from a country awash in turmoil. Family land is systematically burnt to the ground by the military government. Women come home from market to find their husbands and sons taken away to war. And baby girls are born with a feeling of debt: “The suffering of one daughter will ease the suffering of many.” Hence, it is with an air of resolve that adolescents are bought and sold. They must “provide for this life” as their brothers “provide for the life beyond.” Bruno counterpoints the forthright tales of four prostitutes with mesmerizing photographic images: a woman standing in a doorframe awaiting her fate juxtaposed with farmers diligently cultivating their rice fields. Whether stark or ethereal, the images make a poignant plea for survival, both of the exiled women and the tormented land.
Ellen Bruno, Director
Ellen Bruno has been involved with refugee communities since 1980, when she worked in refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. She attended Stanford University’s documentary film program in 1990. Her other films include Samsara, Satya: A Prayer for the Enemy, and Blessed.