Jella Fink writes about a spontaneous film screening and discussion of “Selfie with the Prime Minister” with director Nor Arlene Tan that took place in November 2017 in Berlin.
The right timing, the right perspective: This documentary starring Ziaur Rahman, a Rohingya activist from Myanmar, breaks with our viewing habits by letting us dive into his personal life. While we get to feel his troubles living as a refugee without legal status in Malaysia (Malaysia has not ratified the UN Refugee Convention), the centrepiece of the film is Ziaur’s enthusiasm about Prime Minister Najib. Being the only one within the ASEAN states speaking out in favour of Rohingya people, Ziaurs dream is meeting him in person and taking a selfie together. Ziaur Rahman’s positive spirit irradiates in various nuances throughout the film, despite the obstacles he has to face in his continuing odyssey as a stateless person. By enabling the viewer to access this individual perspective the documentary lends a face to a Rohingya, whom we can identify with through his dreams and aspirations. In this manner, it opens another dimension that does not shy away from the problems Ziaur faces, but nonetheless shows him as a human like all of us. In that sense, it is a striking difference to the images of Rohingya people that the news bring in every day, which make it impossible to bond on a personal level. Laughing with the protagonist we realize that what people have in common is much more than what sets them apart. In this manner, the directors Nor Arlene Tan and Grace Cho Hee Won enable us to access another dimension of life as a Rohingya refugee, beyond the pictures currently circulated by international media. The shortfilm shot in 2017 follows Ziaur to his apartment and lets us join a dinner conversation amongst friends as well as it lets us witness the exciting moment, when Ziaur finally manages to take a selfie with Najib during a meet and greet at a political event.
The screening was hosted by Watch Indonesia in Berlin and included an introduction to the topic by Mandy Fox, whose regional research focus is on Rakhine state. The documentary proved to hold much potential to instigate an engaged talk between the director Nor Arlene Tan and the audience. We discussed the general situation of refugees, legally and in terms of on everyday practices in Malaysia and in Germany.
“Selfie with the Prime Minister” is absolutely a must-see documentary, which is screened on different occasions. For updates, see: https://www.facebook.com/hiddenasiamedia/
The trailer can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2CQIf-cD1w
Header image: a screne from Selfie with the prime minister ©HiddenAsia Media
Jella Fink is a cultural anthropologist specializing on material culture, minorities and rural economies in Myanmar.