"Don't Fence Me In: Major Mary and the Karen Refugees from Burma" chronicles the life of 70-year-old freedom fighter Major Mary On and her people's struggle for self-determination.
Major Mary's charismatic storytelling is accompanied by rare, clandestine footage smuggled out of the refugee camps along the border between Burma and Thailand. The film reveals the Karen refugees' spirit and determination to survive as political and historical forces conspire against them.
Since 1962, Burma has been ruled by a military junta. Life has deteriorated markedly for its citizens. Despite its former prosperity and its rich resources, it was voted least developed nation by the UN in 1987. Human rights atrocities prevail.
More than 100,000 people are living in refugee camps along the border between Burma and Thailand. Some have been there for nearly twenty years. Some are new arrivals. Hundreds of thousands more hide in jungles on the Burma side. All have been forced from their homes by the Burmese military junta. They are the Karen people, one of the largest ethnic groups in Burma.
Throughout the film, Mary explains how her people are fighting for their very survival. She tells us the Burmese military's goal is "to wipe the Karen away so if you want to see them you'll have to go see them in the museum. See just an image or picture." She illuminates the of the plight of the Karen still inside Burma, having little food and hiding in the jungle. "The displaced persons, they can't come to Thailand. They want to be refugees because they got no food, nothing to eat. In the forest they have to eat only bamboo shoots, and roots and leaves and all. Even the Burmese tried to teach the Karen that when you open the Karen's belly you see only leaves."
Resilience of the human spirit is at the core of this film. It is illuminated in the tension between the harsh circumstances the refugees face and the liveliness of their spirit. It is evident in Mary's songs, smile and storytelling. It is evident in the faces of the children.
Major Mary's faith in the future of her people is one that is inextricably linked to the traditions of the past. For while the Karen have lost their land, their way of life, and many of those who lived and fought beside them for independence, they have not lost their ties to a rich and beautiful history that transcends their present day despair. Don't Fence Me In is an eloquent and moving testament to Major Mary and the Karen people and a powerful chronicle of human rights abuses that must finally be brought to the attention of the global community.