By Katie Small
In Myanmar, the Rohingya — a Muslim minority community — face persecution and violence, and are denied basic rights by the majority Buddhist society and govenrment. Midwives is an intimate documentary about the collaboration and resilience of two women living within the region torn by conflict.
Hla, a Buddhist, is training Nyo Nyo, a Muslim, in the practice of midwifery. It is socially unacceptable for Hla to treat Muslim women; Nyo Nyo acts as her assistant and translator, and is determined to open her own clinic one day. The two women’s collaboration is complicated both by the social situation, and by their radically different personalities, which often clash. Their partnership and friendship is a testament to their inspiring dedication to the health of their community.
As Sundance programmer Ana Trzebiatowska says in her introduction to the film, “You’re about to meet some remarkable women, whose honesty and authenticity are inspiring, and whose incredibly complex relationship is so unique, yet it comes down to some very simple truths: There is room for love, humanity, and humor, even in times of deep conflict and darkness. This truly was an unforgettable, eye-opening watch for us”
Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing’s feature debut is five years in the making, and offers unprecedented access to a country in the midst of racial conflict and military coup. The documentary transports viewers to the heart of the region and offers an intimate glimpse into the lived experience of women in a conflict zone.
“My main concern is with women living in conflict regions. I wanted to understand how they live life in this kind of situation,” Hnin Ei Hlaing says in a post-premiere Q&A, where she was joined by the film’s editors and producers. “Before I made this documentary, I thought women in the conflict region might be really suffering or really upset. But when I saw [Hla and Nyo Nyo], they were completely different characters than what I imagined. They have their mission, they work for their community, and also, they have goals for their lives,” she says.
The documentary remarkably portrays the two women in a very balanced, honest light, and does not shy away from illuminating their differences and the conflicts they have with each other. Editor Mila Aung-Thwin says, “One of the main tasks was to really embrace those [differences between the two women], and I think if you’re not careful in a film like this you could just fall into clichés, because you want to present the idyllic version of something,” he continues. “At one point Snow asked, how much [conflict] and insecurities should we be showing? I just really kept looking for more nuance, especially in the relationship between the two women.”
Hnin Ei Hlaing adds that, “Whenever I see Hla and Nyo Nyo, I feel empowered — they have a lot to do and even though they live in the conflict region, they have humor and a lot of layers and such strong personalities.”