Using their bare hands, married couple Htwe Tin and Thein Shwe draw oil from a pit they drilled themselves on the land next to their house. There are lots of these “artisanal” oilfields dotted around Myanmar, where people have swapped crop cultivation for selling the oil they pump from the ground by hand. There are moments when filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky allows himself a morsel of visual poetry, with almost impressionistic close-ups of the shimmering patterns in the syrupy brown oil, and a sound design that echoes the rumbling depths of the earth. More often, however, this is a stark and honest portrait of two people who want the best for their children. They are making their own way in life; son Zin Ko Aung dreams of a career as a professional football player. The film offers a glimpse into an unusual way of life that combines grueling work and afternoon naps with visits to a fortune teller who predicts the couple’s future—mysticism is never far away in Myanmar, even in this oil-soaked setting.
Saeed Taji Farouky is a Palestinian/British filmmaker who has been producing work around themes of conflict, human rights and colonialism since 2004. His previous documentary, Tell Spring Not to Come This Year, premiered at the Berlinale 2015 where it won the Audience Choice Panorama award and the Amnesty Human Rights Award. His films focus on exile and the lingering trauma of conflict. He tells intimate, personal stories with an emphasis on humanism, and its mirror image: surrealism.