CAPITAL OF MAE LA







This short documentary tells the story of Mae La camp, one of the largest refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border, and of the people who live there. In 2014, I, designer and filmmaker Belle Phromchanya, accompanied anthropologist Jiraporn Laocharoenwong, who was doing research there, to visit this camp, which has been a home for over 40,000 refugees for more than 30 years.

While originally envisioned as a temporary settlement, the camp has obtained many features of a city: Mae La is vibrant, alive, diverse, and even though it is normally hidden from view and literally behind a fence, people make a living here, work (both inside and outside the camp), study and go to school. Modern facilities such as smartphones, internet, and cable TV are used in most households. They travel back and forth to Karen areas in Myanmar to visit family, because while access for outsiders is highly controlled, the camp inhabitants are actually quite mobile. As news had recently arrived that the camp would close in the near future, I could imagine the emotional struggle for the people living there for most of their lives, that they might need to leave. Is this the ‘in-between’ life envisioned by many?

Through numbers of conversations with camp inhabitants we met during our film shooting, we came across individuals whose lives are fascinating with unique stories. Everything takes place against the backdrop of the camp's impending closure and preparation for repatriation.

The film is a semi-longitudinal work in the Mae La camp filmed over a 4-year timespan, in collaboration with Jiraporn. We use the camera as a witness to show the individual stories of the camp inhabitants. The filming process was mostly unplanned and randomly selected through the people who passed by. We let them choose their own participation and filmed those who were willing to share their stories with us. The film represents what we saw, talked about, and experienced during the time we were at the camp, reflecting the actual situation of life in the camp through the perspective of refugees themselves.

Directed by Belle Phromchanya
Based on the ethnographic work of Jiraporn Laocharoenwong
Edit by Twan da Silva
Music by Christoph Scherbaum
Visual Design by S†ëfan Schäfer


capitalofmaela.com


TYPE
Short Documentary

YEAR
2019 

PLACE
Tak, Thailand / Amsterdam, The Netherlands





Mark