In 2011 a 19-minute documentary titled Altered Focus: Burma won the Best Independent and Emerging Filmmaker Award at the International Skateboard Film Festival in Los Angeles.
According to the film’s synopsis posted on vimeo.com, the movie, shot in Yangon and Mandalay in 2009, “explores the reaction to [skateboarding] while touching on the political situation in [in Myanmar]”.
Two of the creators of that documentary, skateboarders James Holman and Ali Drummond, returned to Yangon on September 20 for another film project, bringing with them cameraman Toby Mills and photographer Henry Kingsford.
The crew spent about a month documenting the lives of skateboarders in Myanmar, with shooting locations including the city streets, City Centre Skate Park and Kandawgyi Park in Yangon, and the National Village Skate Park in Nay Pyi Taw.
The aim, according to director, producer and cameraman Holman, is to create another documentary to submit for screening at the Newport Beach Film Festival near Los Angeles in April 2013.
“The first time we came here was in 2009. We made our film like a travel documentary, and combined that with what we heard about the country’s situation during the September 2007 protests,” said Mr Holman, whose Hot Knees Media company (hotknees.com) is based in Queenstown, New Zealand.
“The resulting film was shown by BBC and CNN, and we won an award in 2011. But that film is now quite out of date … so we came back to make a new one.”
He said the new documentary would be about 15 to 18 minutes long like the first one, but it might also be split into two parts.
“Part one could be about the difficulties of Yangon skaters, who have to skate at an improper skate park,” Mr Holman said, referring to the sudden and unexplained bulldozing of the Thuwunna Skate Park last May, leaving the poorly maintained and inadequate City Centre Skate Park as the only skateboarding venue in Yangon.
“We hope to promote the scene for local skaters, and get attention for them from international audiences. I hope this documentary will play a part in helping them get a proper skate park in Yangon.”
He said the prospective second part would likely be released in 2014 and would require another trip to Myanmar to complete.
“If they build a new skate park in Yangon, or if the National Village Skate Park in Nay Pyi Taw is destroyed, there will be a lot of things going on here and I’ll come back to continue the story for part two,” he said.
Ali Drummond, a skater from London, described the Yangon skateboarders as creative and social, and coming from different backgrounds.
“It’s not easy to skate at an improper park and on terrible roads like they have in Yangon, but they are still doing it and trying the best they can. I really respect them,” he said.
He said he hoped the new documentary would “shine a light” on Myanmar and get attention for the skaters so they can build a proper skate park.
“We tried to interview the person who owns City Centre Shopping Mall but no one knew who that was. When we asked the staff, they said the manager had changed and they didn’t know who the new one was, and the manager was not concerned with the skate park at the shopping centre anyway,” Mr Drummond said.
“This is a huge problem for the skaters. They don’t know the owner of City Centre, there’s no explanation for the closing of Thuwunna Skate Park and there are rumours that the park in Nay Pyi Taw will close soon because nobody uses it. Of course Yangon skaters can’t go there just for skating every day.”
Mr Drummond said he also plans to return to Myanmar soon to get support for building a new skate park in Yangon.
“We already have people in London who will help with the project. Now we need local support,” he said.
“The park needs to be centrally located but in a quiet area where they don’t disturb the public and the public doesn’t disturb them. And they need good-quality skateboards to rent to people who want to try skating.”
Mr Holman and Mr Drummond both noted that Yangon had changed since their last visit in 2009; in particular there were more cars on the road and the city seemed more crowded.
But for Toby Mills, a freelancer who operated the second camera and fulfilled production managing duties, it was his first visit to Myanmar.
“I would have never travelled here alone. This was a really good opportunity for me to help James, and at the same time I got to see a third world country. It was a fun trip and experience. I’d like to come here again,” he said.
Henry Kingsford, meanwhile, was along as editor and photographer of London-based Grey skateboard magazine (greyskatemag.com). He plans to publish a special issue on skateboarders in Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.