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Bone Whisperers

Follow the Pwo Karen as they bid farewell to their departed loved ones in this lively ritual

December, 2023
Goethe-Institut-Myanmar Documentary Competition
Jade Award Winner
Yangon, Myanmar

Synopsis

A shaman sits hunched over a bowl of water and a candle, talking to a fragment of the mortal remains of a woman named Mya San Kyi: ‘If you are hot, sit by the fire; if you are cold, bathe in this water’, he suggests politely, if oddly. Talking to the bones of the dearly departed plays a central role in the funeral rites of the Pwo Karen people. This lively ritual is not only a sign of respect and remembrance for the dead; it also allows family members to share Buddhist merit with their departed relatives and make sure they cross safely into a heavenly abode. ‘Woe betide those who are not guided on their journey’ warns one singer-performer, ‘they will find themselves wandering henceforth forevermore’. Compellingly and discreetly filmed in well-composed camera shots, this documentary brilliantly succeeds in inviting the viewer to take a seat amid this fascinating Karen ceremony.

Director's Statement

‘Bone-collecting and showering ceremonies have taken place in my parents’ village of Ookyun in Ayeyarwady Region in Myanmar for generations. I remember attending one such ritual for my deceased grandmother when I was a child. On the plains, this one-time event organised by Buddhist Karen for their departed would be held in the rain-free hot summer months when there is no farm work. These days it is performed collectively, if at all, so when my father told me that the villagers were about to hold one, I jumped at the chance to record this sad yet jubilant event for posterity.’ 

Director's Biography

Eim Chan Thar (born in 1983) is of Karen ethnicity and comes from Myaungmya township in Ayeyarwady Region. Despite her parents’ misgivings, she spent four years working in a bank to save enough money to dedicate herself to film. In 2016 she joined Yangon Film School and directed her first documentary, Tofu Nights. Other YFS courses followed, giving rise to Don’t Blame Me!, a powerful animated documentary about a survivor of sexual violence that quickly went viral following its release on social media, and a collaborative fictional work, Easy Money. She attended the Myanmar Motion Picture Organization’s film directing course in 2018, creating Lon. A year later she studied cinematography at the National University of Arts and Culture and wrote a script, ‘My Precious Breakfast’. Eim Chan Thar is also a photographer and a painter. Her exhibited works include ‘The Novice’, and the paintings ‘Mother’ and ‘Hibiscus’. Bone Whisperers is her second documentary. 

Awards & Nominations

December, 2023
Goethe-Institut-Myanmar Documentary Competition
Jade Award Winner
Yangon, Myanmar

Director's Filmography

2024
Bone Whisperers

Director

27‘7‘‘

2020

Co-Director

13‘10‘‘

2017

Director

16‘55‘‘

Pictures

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