BSM grad and filmaker brings Burma home

When the bus pulled away from Sangkhlaburi, Thailand, filmmaker Michael McCaffrey found himself 8,300 miles from home, drenched by rain, in the middle of a remote street with no idea what to do next or how to communicate with the locals. This was only the beginning of his journey to capture on video the issues facing persecuted refugees from Burma.

BSM to the Big Screen
McCaffrey graduated from Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park in 1997 and studied film at Montana State University in Bozeman.

While at BSM, McCaffrey was on the Knight Errant staff as a photographer.

He has produced a documentary on Pearl Harbor Survivors which aired on PBS and served as a cinematographer and editor on a low budget independent film called Cabin 6. The film played at the 2006 DAMAH Film Festival and the East Lansing Film Festival. McCaffrey has only recently returned from Thailand.

While looking for work, McCaffrey got a call from his friend Joe White, producer and director, asking him to travel to Thailand with him to help film a documentary.

“The documentary covers some of the issues facing persecuted people in Burma as well as Christians, and IDPs (Internationally Displaced Peoples),” said McCaffrey, “Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Burma over the border into Thailand where they now remain in refugee camps.”

Capturing the protests

In the two-person film crew, McCaffrey’s role was a technical one. “I was brought in to do camera, lighting and sound work for the project,” said McCaffrey.
The purpose of the trip was to capture as much footage of life in Thailand and interview various people including the former prime minister of Thailand.

But one of the most moving events captured on tape were the protests by the people in front of the Myanmar and China Embassies.
The protests were conducted mostly by young people in their twenties or thirties and even a few children. There were around 100 people protesting outside the Myanmar Embassy.

Most of their requests pertained to wanting a democracy and human rights.

“They were also demanding the Burma army free the hundreds of monks arrested for protesting, as well as liberating Aung San Suu Kyi from the house-arrest that she has been living under since her democratic election in 1990,” said McCaffrey, “Of the monks that were arrested we’re not sure how many are still alive. The news in recent weeks has been reporting the Burma army has been burning bodies, obviously to prevent a body count from exposing the degree of their crimes.”

Peace among Protest

The protest was the first protest McCaffrey had ever attended. He was nervous on having his first protest experience to be in a foreign country where he did not know how much of his involvement would be safe.

“After being there awhile I felt more comfortable and was able to lose myself in my work, getting up in the middle of the action with both my video and still cameras,” said McCaffrey.

The Thai police kept a close eye on the protest and the organizers kept it in control.

“It was a peaceful endeavor,” said McCaffrey, “one thing that I saw in the protest, what the news never captures, is the emotion and hurt behind the eyes of these people. They don’t want violence or bloodshed, they only want to live peacefully with the people they love and care about.”

McCaffrey said it is too easy to view a protest as something motivated by anger, especially with all the signs and yelling. However, that was not what he encountered.

“Protesting for [the Burmese] wasn’t a fun thing to do on the weekend. It was easy for me to see in person, that they were re-opening deep emotional wounds just to be there and speak their hearts.”

Disappointment in Media Apathy

The lack of media coverage disappointed everyone present.

“It’s easy for us, in America, not to let conflicts abroad gain a foothold on our conscience. I am guilty of this as well,” said McCaffrey, “The more I began to learn about the situation in Burma and really understand what was going on, the more impossible it became for me to ignore the situation.”

Bringing Burma Home

“I followed God’s will against my own will. Having my faith strengthened through the experience is the most rewarding part of my trip.”

Through the documentary, McCaffrey believes he can help make a difference in the lives of the people.

“I’m only one person, he said, “but it’s my hope the Lord will use this film to accomplish some greater work of His doing, in which I was able to play a small part.”

The film is done independently and director Joe White will be looking for a company to pick it up and distribute it. The release date for the documentary has yet to be determined.

alexandra sifferlin, editor in chief