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Originally published Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

'They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain': a hopeful documentary

A three-star movie review of "They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain," a hopeful documentary that questions the state of the harsh, poor but once-prosperous country formerly known as Burma.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain,' a documentary directed by Robert H. Lieberman. 88 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (subject matter). Metro.

The film's co-producer, Deborah C. Hoard, will be in town to talk at the 7:05 p.m. shows Friday, Saturday and Monday and the 3:40 p.m. screening Sunday. Lieberman will appear at the 7:05 p.m. shows Wednesday and Thursday.

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As the title suggests, "They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain" questions the present state of the harsh, poor but once-prosperous country formerly known as Burma.

A post-junta government recently released political prisoners, eased censorship and paved the way for a kinder political environment. Carefully filmed over a period of two years with a camcorder (the American filmmakers risked arrest), the movie was edited from more than 100 hours of material.

It includes a February 2011 interview with the Democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize (she is also the subject of Luc Besson's biopic "The Lady," starring Michelle Yeoh and scheduled to open next Friday) and was recently elected to Parliament. After years of house arrest, she speaks freely about her hopes for her country.

"Everybody wants to be independent," she declares in one of this hopeful film's most moving scenes. It's as if she just coined a phrase.

Unlike other documentaries and television broadcasts about turmoil in Myanmar, this one doesn't concentrate on secretly shot footage of street violence between soldiers and rebels.

Indeed, it plays almost like a travelogue at times, providing geography and history lessons that demonstrate how colonial powers, especially the British and the Japanese, set the stage for the current government. (Some Buddhists have complained that the picture makes them look happily suicidal.)

The director, Robert H. Lieberman, and his editor, David Kossack, do include some brutal confrontations, but they're more interested in establishing the beauty of the landscapes, the potential for growth and the aspirations of people they meet (education is a popular but elusive goal).

Still, the filmmakers claim it's necessary not to identify interviewees and their families. While "They Call It Myanmar" is certainly more encouraging than previous films on this long-repressed country, fears of persecution continue to loom large.

John Hartl:

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