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Above and Below the Ground tells the story of daring indigenous women activists and rock musicians who come together in the ongoing struggle against the Myitsone Dam and for environmental self-determination across their native Kachinland. Through investigation, protest, prayer, and music, they test the boundaries of tentative democratic reform in Northern Myanmar, and work to create a future in which native peoples have the right to care for and protect their own lands and natural resources.

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Above and Below the Ground, a feature-length documentary film, is being produced collaboratively with a team of Kachin activists and videographers from northern Myanmar, including those directly impacted by the Myitsone Dam.  During the pre-production process, we facilitated a 3-month practice-based series of workshops focused on music video and documentary production with rock group BLAST, environmental organization Kachin Development Networking Group, and Kachin media-makers. Workshop sections included (1) Shooting (2) Editing and (3) Storyboarding & Impact Planning. BLAST’s new album of music videos as well as Above and Below The Ground are both reflections of the training and collaboration initiated during this process.

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Awng Lum: Key Character and member of rock group BLAST

Originally from Putao, the mountainous upstream region of Kachin State, Awng Lum is a musician and pastor. When he’s not composing music or shooting music videos with his band mates, Awng Lum is spending time with his congregation in Aung Myin Tha village, a community displaced by the Myitsone dam.

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Emily Hong: Director and DP

Emily Hong is a feminist anthropologist, filmmaker, and co-founder of Rhiza Collective and EthnoCine films. Emily has directed three collaborative non-fiction shorts, including Get By (2014), Nobel Nok Dah (2015), and For My Art (2016), which have screened in Athens, Chiang Mai, Lisbon, New York, Paris, and Yangon. The latter two draw on sensory ethnography to weave visual stories of Myanmar women refugees and performance artists, respectively. The idea for Above and Below grew out of Emily’s anthropological research in Kachin State, where she met and worked with Lu Ra, Hkawn Mai, and BLAST through year-long research on land rights and natural resources.   

Hkawn Mai: Key Character and Story Producer

Hkawn Mai is a 23-year old law student at Myitkyina University whose family was relocated for the construction of the Myitsone Dam. She is one of the newest members of Kachin Development Networking Group, which works to protect the natural resources and environment of Kachin State through investigative research, community trainings and mobilizing.

Li Li: Key Character and member of rock group BLAST

Based on the China-Myanmar border, Li Li is a pastor and musician who holds degrees in divinity and music composition from Kachin Theological College and Seminary and Silliman University in the Philippines. Li Li speaks Jinghpaw, English, Burmese, Shan, and some Tagalog and Chinese.


Lu Ra: Key Character, Founder of MRJ land rights network

Lu Ra is one of the most active community leaders from Tanghpre village, where she helped organize brave protests that sparked an unprecedented nationwide ‘save the Irrawaddy’ campaign--a movement so successful that it led to the temporary suspension of the dam in 2011. When she’s not farming, you can often find Lu Ra organizing prayer actions, protests, and press conferences.

Maggie Lemere: Producer

Maggie Lemere is a filmmaker, oral historian and storytelling strategist whose work focuses on social and environmental issues. She’s been a conflict researcher, human rights trainer, refugee case worker, and filmmaker on projects across the U.S., Africa, Asia and Latin America. She’s editor of Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma's Military Regime (McSweeney's / Voice of Witness, 2011); the book was translated to Burmese and released in Burma in 2016. Maggie is also a founder of “Storytelling for Changemakers” with Ashoka. Her short film Everyone a Changemaker: The Story of Pinelands North won the Rockefeller Foundation's international Storytelling Challenge award in 2015.

Mun: Additional Cinematography

Based in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Mun is a camera operator and editor who specializes in music video production. When he’s not hanging out with BLAST, shooting and editing the music videos for their next album, he can often be found playing and recording his own music.


Salaw: Additional Cinematography

A photographer and cinematographer based in Myitkyina, Salaw has many years of experience shooting events and music videos for the Kachin community. A long-time collaborator with BLAST, he is one of two camera operators for the band’s upcoming music video album.

Seng Ni: Key Character and member of rock group BLAST

Originally from Myitkyina, as a child, Seng Ni hoped to be a painter and poet. He now channels this creativity as a composer and co-founder of BLAST. When he’s not composing new songs with BLAST, he works a vocal trainer for aspiring musicians in Myitkyina.

Tsa Ji: Myanmar Impact Producer

Tsa Ji is originally from the Hukawng Valley, and later moved to Myitkyina because of the civil war. He is a co-founder and General Secretary of the Kachin Development Networking Group. Tsa Ji travels widely across Kachin State for social and environmental research and trainings with grassroots communities as well as around Myanmar and abroad, for advocacy on natural resource management and the intersection of environmental and political conflicts in Myanmar.

Zau Mai: Story Producer and Stills Photographer

Zau Mai was born in Muse Township, and grew up in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar. A graduate of the Philosophy Department at Myitkyina University, Zau Mai is interested in photography and IT security. He is now a staff member of the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG).

Zau Myit Ding: Stills Photographer and Additional Cinematography

Zau Myit Ding was born in Laiza, Kachin State, Myanmar. Currently a student in the Kachinland School of Arts and Sciences (KSAS) Pre-Collegiate Diploma (PCD) program, he is preparing for further study. Zau Myit Ding’s interest in filmmaking comes from a passion to tell stories about his country in order to change it for the better.

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Myanmar’s most threatened communities and ecosystems are those caught between coveted natural resources, powerful military cronies, and profit-hungry multinationals. Kachinland is home to the world’s most valuable jade reserves and global hotspots of biodiversity, including the mighty Irrawaddy River, the highest mountain and the largest lake in Southeast Asia. After decades of fighting, the military government and the Kachin Independence Army reached a ceasefire in 1994, leading to a superficial peace and 17 years of crony-led pillaging of Kachinland’s natural resources. In this context, the military approved the Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam project in 2006; it would be the 15th largest hydropower station in the world, flooding 173 square miles of land and 47 Kachin villages.

Since the project’s initial approval, there has been an outbreak of civil war in Kachinland and a national peace process led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose government will now decide the fate of the dam. While Suu Kyi has been lauded internationally, many ethnic women see little tangible change nor meaningful inclusion in decision-making.

Our film will tell the story of indigenous environmental activism against the dam, and the role of women and art in this struggle. We will investigate how indigenous women and musicians are working together to spur resistance, how the country’s first democratic government in fifty years will respond; and what lessons other indigenous people, women and environmentalists can take from their example.

We hope to bring visibility around Kachin activists’ call for a constitutional amendment to allow local natural resource management and to spark dialogue around the outsized role of international power-holders in Kachin State including Myitsone dam-builder, CPI; mining companies; and the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society. Finally, we will illuminate the critical perspectives that Myanmar’s women can offer to the country’s genuine peace and development.

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