Danish filmmaker Anne Gyrithe Bonne's ‘Lady of No Fear' takes a look at Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the woman, and her husband.
Aung Sang Suu Kyi has been in the limelight for many years, and still continues to be so. While one knows a lot about her political struggles, hardly anything is known about her personal life, especially as she has been very reticent about it.
A new documentary ‘Aung Sang Suu Kyi,- Lady of no Fear' is creating waves at festivals around the world, because it throws the spotlight on the Myanmarese leader's private life, in particular, her late British husband, Dr Michael Aris, whom she met and married while studying at Oxford University. Aris died of cancer, when she was under house arrest.
Not much is known of the important role he played in her life and work, and this new documentary (which will be screened at the Mumbai Film Festival), made after three years of rigorous research by Danish documentary filmmaker Anne Gyrithe Bonne, has some moving revelations.
Excerpts from an interview with the Director, in Bangkok:
Why did you, a Danish filmmaker, choose to make a film on a freedom fighter in Myanmar (formerly Burma) ?
I have always been interested in people living on the edge and paying a high price for it. My last documentary, ‘The Will to Live,' was shot during the fateful events of September 11 and I got involved with the questions of Love, Hate and Reconciliation. The same questions can be connected with Aung Sang Suu Kyi and that's why I decided to make a film on her.
Why did you choose to focus on her personal life ?
I wanted to go beneath the surface. I wanted to compare her with those women, who also fought for their identity, in their individual way.
Has your research been extensive?
It took me three years to get the funds, before I started my extensive research. I went to Washington, New York, London, Cambridge, Oxford and also Myanmar Bangkok and Mae Sot (in Thailand).
We contacted different countries for photographs and film footage. I soon found out that the most important event was not the Nobel Prize, which everybody knows about, but the Sakharov Prize.
How did you get in touch with her family, who were living in UK?
It was not easy. For a long time I spoke on the phone with a common Danish friend of theirs. In 2008, I met Lucinda Philips, Michael's sister. She spoke of their sorrow when Michael died and how she and her husband had to take care of Suu's sons. She told me that the family was not allowed to talk to anyone, as Suu didn't want her private life to be publicised.
I did not push, but slowly, they gave me more and more information, which helped me to create this film. They gave this information, because none of them had any news about Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest, and they wanted this film to draw attention to her.
Did you know about the important role played by Dr Michael Aris in Suu Kyi's life and work?
I didn't know at all. It was when I received the clips from the Sakharov Prize that I realised what an outstanding man he was! Michael knew a lot about Buddhism, which probably kept him strong. He and Suu lived an ordinary couple's life in Oxford, with him focusing on his academic career, and her being the perfect home maker. Things changed totally, when she left for Myanmar to look after her ailing mother, never to return. He had to bring up his sons, single-handedly. But even then, Michael became totally involved with his wife's cause. He worked a lot for her, met many important people and spoke on her behalf.
Did you meet her sons?
Like I mentioned before, I respected the family and did not push too much. So, I never met the boys. But Lucinda told me about their suffering, most of all because they were worried about their mother's health and life.
Did French director Luc Besson see your film before he started work on his new feature film, ‘The Lady,' based on Aung Sang Suu Kyi ?
I met his manuscript writer and co-producer of the film, who both liked the documentary and were very surprised that I got so much archival material on Michael. I sent a copy to Luc Besson and his wife, and I heard she liked it a lot.
Did you change the ending of the film, when Aung Sang Suu Kyi was released?
Yes, the original film ended with the obituary speech of her son at his father's funeral, which was very moving. But when the film was screened at Berlin's ‘Cinema for Peace' Festival, Aung Sang Suu Kyi was suddenly released. So, I included the shots of her joyful homecoming along with the Myanmarese crowd and this is the new ending of the film.
Have you met Aung Sang Suu Kyi ?
No. But I would love to meet her, not for an interview, just to talk. However, I'm willing to wait, till she has fully reconciled with her past.
Do you know if she has seen your film?
Well, Lucinda and Antony, Michael's s twin brother, gave her the film and various journalists have interviewed her, when the film was screened at Berlin and The Hague. But she has not commented on it. I believe it would be heart-breaking for her to see the work done by her husband, in the film.
How special is this screening in India?
It is special, because Suu went to college in India (Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi). Her mother was a diplomat in India, and that's why Suu stayed and studied there.
As a woman, are you inspired by Aung Sang Suu Kyi ?
Her strength, courage, discipline are great qualities for women and she, particularly, inspired me when I was alone in Myanmar. I've had many personal tragedies in my own life. I'm not sure if I'm as strong as her, but I've learned to be positive every day.
Will this be an inspirational film for women?
I think it will be an inspirational film for people, because I chose to describe her as a normal person, with faith and anxiety, fighting for her own identity. I wanted people to see that they can achieve a lot by believing in themselves and believing in a cause that is bigger than themselves.