“Buddhism and nat worship are like mangoes and bananas” Whether contending with a deceitful daughter-in-law, forecasting financial prospects for a tea shop, or freeing a husband from government detainment, Friends in High Places reveals the central role of nats and spirit mediums in alleviating the day to day burdens of modern Burmese life. “Leprosy isnt as contagious as peoples problems,” notes one medium, “my clients bring their worries into my home. I dont need to go out on the street to learn how cruel life can be.” Yet despite their skills in channeling good luck for others, the life stories of the mediums prove to be as poignant as the stories of those who seek their assistance. Just as nats lie somewhere on the spectrum between mortals and the divine, the gay men who serve as primary conduits for the nat spirits are considered to be neither male nor female. Regarded by society with a curious mix of disdain and reverence, the male mediums profiled in this film ranging from the gentle, melancholy “Lady Silver Wings” to the hard drinking, ego-driven “Mr. Famous” illustrate the special niche granted to gay men in Burmese society. Exquisite footage accentuates Lindsey Merrison's keen eye for nuance as she takes the viewer on a journey examining the extremes that define Burmese spirit mediums and their way of life. Deceit and artistry, tragedy and comedy, faith and cynicism in a country known both as a 2,500 year bastion of Buddhism and more recently for its legacy of political corruption and instability, the world of the nat becomes an analogy for the many unusual juxtapositions within Burma itself.
Friends in High Places / by Lindsey Merrison.
[San Francisco, California, USA] : Kanopy Streaming, 2014.
Title from title frames.
Originally produced by Documentary Educational Resources in 2001.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
In Burmese, English, Subtitles in English.
Merrison, Lindsey, author.; Hlaing, Wynn, contributor.; Kann Oo, Wei Wei, contributor.; Swan, Ah, contributor.; Tin, Ohn, contributor.
Watertown, MA : Documentary Educational Resources (DER), 2001