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zz2Film/Video

Kalama Sutta: Seeing is Believing

2002  |  Video  |  color  |  sound  |  90 min
Holly Fisher
Includes clips filmed undercover by various, including Karen human rights cameramen - also clips from internet
Holly Fisher, Katherine Pieratos
Holly Fisher
Holly Fisher
Mun Awng (Dennis Dawes), others
Maung Zarni, Naw May Oo, Moe Thee Zun, Min Zin, Vum Son, Ka Hsaw Wa

I returned to Burma in 2003. Entering illegally via “the back door” of Thailand under escort of Karen guerilla freedom fighters she filmed internally displaced ethnic Karen who refuse to leave their homeland for the safety of (stateless) refugee camps dotted along the Thai/Burma border. Clips from Kalama Sutta then became a template for my second feature film concerning Burma, Deafening Silence (2012), which is grounded in footage from this trip.

…New York-based experimental filmmaker Holly Fisher, known for a series of conceptually complex and visually elegant films, studies Burma in her latest project, Kalama Sutta, moving beyond picturesque travel images to examine the country’s political upheaval and oppression…Fisher creates a dense patchwork of information that eschews a single perspective.

Tales of torture and political struggle against the military dictatorship contrast with garish Web visuals and shots of the country’s beautiful landscape. Indeed, Fisher structures the film around this dichotomy, playing off the invitation to foreign tourists to visit Burma. Seeing is Believing is the hypocritical entreaty, as assertion deftly undermined by Fisher’s collection of personal testimony from exiled activists. The film’s title comes from the Buddhist Charter on Free Inquiry, which says we should doubt appearances. Fisher does just that with her poetic essay, refuting the propaganda of a government bent on attracting tourists while brutalizing its people.

– Holly Willis, LA Weekly

Kalama Sutta is a kaleidoscope—constantly changing and each fragment revealing a tiny bit of the story which only becomes whole as the pieces move around their own axes and blend for a moment…the war and suffering are only a small part of a long and unfinished story of people who will survive and retain their unique identities despite the foreign cultures which bombard their senses but do not change them…(her) camera and sound have caught all of it for just one moment and stopped it for eternity…

– Emeritus Josef Silverstein, professor, Rutgers University

Why the silence about what’s going on in Burma? Why is the trouble in this paradise not cause for outcry? We’ve heard of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her heroic but unsuccessful efforts to achieve freedom and justice in her country. Beyond that, Burma (renamed Myanmar by the current military dictatorship) has slipped almost completely from the US media and our collective attention.

Kalama Sutta: Seeing is Believing is an extraordinary new film that will remedy this gap in our personal and public consciousness. Produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Holly Fisher, this 90 minute documentary is both highly informative and deeply inspiring. Smuggled footage, archives, and web imagery counterpoint sights and sounds gathered by the filmmaker to expose the the human rights abuse, environmental degradation, and ethnic genocide inflicted by Burma’s brutal military regime. Searing narratives of exiled leaders struggling for democracy and indigenous rights are laced into this poetic essay about the truth of appearances. The result is a powerful drama that is also a dazzling collage, a surprising tapestry, and an unforgettable artistic experience.

Here is an unprecedented view of a country in purgatory, its citizens enslaved. What the military junta presents to tourists and the outside world is light years from the reality of current conditions. To get beneath appearances and understand the real political, cultural, and artistic truth of this country, you must see this film; as it unfolds, the story of the Golden Land that is Burma becomes a conduit to discover shared vulnerabilities in a globalized world.

– Edith Mirante

Kalama Sutta commands the viewer’s attention, but also demands their engagement, and their active seeing. Images and information are layered and build toward a deeply empathetic vision of peoples who inhabit a land of thousands of shining pagodas, and survive at the point of hundreds of thousands of bayonets. A nation dying a slow death, asks a Burmese democracy activist interviewed in Kalama Sutta. How do you get that on camera? Fisher somehow manages to do just that, but with a human face that also allows us hope for Burma’s eventual revival.

– Tom Lansner, Journalist and Professor

The Jerome Foundation Film Production Grant
NYSCA Film Production Grant
NYSCA Film Post-Production Grant
NYSCA Film Distribution Grant
Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church Grant
The Wellspring Foundation
Rockwood Fund, Inc.
Norwegian Burma Committee
Democratic Voice of Burma, Norway
Mary Duke Biddle Foundation
Brooklyn Arts Council
Pace Defense Fund
Malthea Fako


Broadcast on Free Speech TV (2003-2004)
The Forum, Berlin International Film Festival, Berlin, Germany (World Premiere, 2002)
The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, Poughkeepsie, NY (2003)
Images of War, Visions of Peace: World Peace Conference, The Hague, Netherlands (1999)
Amnesty International Film Festival, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2001)
Digital Talkies, Delhi, India (2001)
Arizona International Film Festival, Tucson, AZ (2001)
Goethe-Institut, New York, NY (2001)
International Women’s Film Festival Dortmund, Cologne, Germany (2002)
Vancouver Asian Film Festival, Vancouver, Canada (2002)
Seattle Human Rights Film Festival, Seattle, WA (2002)
San Francisco Cinematheque, San Francisco, CA (2002)
Filmforum, Los Angeles, CA (2002)
St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, United Kingdom (2002)
California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA (2003)
International Festival of Environmental Films, Royan, France (2003)
Cinema South International Film Festival, Sderot, Israel (2003)
Three Continents Festival, Johannesburg, South Africa (2003)
Two Boots Theater, New York, NY (2004)



Kalama Sutta: Seeing is Believing is an experimental film meditation on the political and cultural upheaval in the country of Burma (Myanmar). Post-Cold War legacies — militarism, human rights and environmental abuse, and ethnic genocide – are linked in this living history of Burma. Three weeks traveling inside confirmed that the only access to what was really going on was through conversations with refugees and exiles, smuggled underground media, and archives pulled off the internet.

Never has so much information been available at a time when it is equally possible for a tourist to savor “The Golden Land” without knowing that Burma was then ruled by one of the most brutal military dictatorships on the planet. The viewer’s project here is to make meaning and/or an emotional connection to a place colonized by the British for a century, where the junta seeks business via the internet while the ethnics fetch water in hollow bamboo.