Chriz Naing is an up and coming filmmaker and multicultural artist from Yangon, Myanmar. His film Zayar has been recognized by 2016 Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival and has premiered around the world. Not only is Chriz a storyteller through cinematography but music, and composition as well. He is truly one of the most kind hearted and humble artists in the scene right now. We at Yangon Literary Magazine are grateful to feature him as our April Out In The Open. Find out more about Chriz and his work at http://www.chriznaing.com/
Out in the Open is focusing on the stories of Burmese diaspora and exploring what it means to be Burmese apart from the conservative narrative. We want to start with you; tell us a little bit about who are you and about your work.
My name is Chriz Naing. Yes, I’m Chriz with the “Z.” That name alone speaks who I am. I love rules but I like to bend them. I don’t fit in anywhere but I’m completely comfortable with that. Originally from Yangon, Myanmar. I grew up there as well as in Australia and America. I’m a product of mixed cultures – I create my own voice out of that and share my perspectives through music and cinema. Also I like Martin Scorsese, Cary Fukunaga, Westworld (HBO), Love (Netflix), Jessica Chastain, Steve Jobs, Alessia Cara, Slipknot, Linkin Park and DJ Khaled….#AnotherOne
With your film, Zayar, you bring the narrative of Burmese immigrants and their struggles in the United States on to the big screen. Is there a lack of representation of the Burmese narratives internationally, not only in film but also in other mediums as well? Why does representation matter?
We have to backtrack all the way to our childhood education for that. Since kids, we were taught to only follow “they” (authorities, monks, teachers, parents, elders) and never to question them. All they wanted was obedient kids. It’s funny because in public school every student has the same answer to the exam questions because we weren’t allowed to express our thoughts or be creative; in the West it would be considered plagiarism, but not here. Not only that, but you must have a certain haircut to go to school. That is why it is hard for Burmese kids to think outside of the box or to adjust to a new culture. Not having well established Burmese communities or idols in the world also gives kids no confident in themselves. I was one of the lucky kids to study at private schools and abroad. I always felt obligated to represent kids who did not have the same opportunities than I did.When I got into New York University for a Film & TV, I knew it wasn’t just for me but for the whole new generation that is coming ahead. I was the only Burmese kid at the film department. I gave more than my 200% effort with no sleep and surrounded myself with people with complete different background because I realized that I will be a bridge between the Burmese and different cultures. Zayar film exactly represents that.We need representations from all perspectives not just Burmese – only then you will see the reality; otherwise, people will choose to believe what they want to believe.Regardless I think the young Burmese generation is changing now. They are fast learners and have accomplished more than I’ve had. Their artwork shows their maturity and talent. They will probably think I’m lame in a few years. I gotta keep up with the young blood.
Burmese people who live abroad are often viewed in a negative way by many in the country. Your film sheds light on the nuances of immigration and military border conflict in our country, which is always a hot topic. What has been the reaction to your message?
It is a definitely a culture shock for repats or for both sides for that matter. There is always an inevitable clash when people think differently. First, your family finds it difficult to accept that you are not the same person as you were before you left Myanmar. And the new you, “young and hot,” want to prove that you can improve situations in the country but “they” again, treating you in their traditional ways. Both parties are responsible to compromise and find middle ground to start with.Maybe Zayar sequel should be about all that.Regarding Zayar themes, the film highlights that whether rich or poor, Burmese people always find themselves separated from their families for better lives. Because we couldn’t even get electricity, not only to run a business, but for kids to even study. I know I had to do homework with candle light. It was romantic, though.All jokes aside, we had or still have civil war in the country – the conflict has been labeled as the world’s longest-running civil war. After watching Burma soldier and Burma VJ, I was inspired by those films and the history to make Zayar for younger kids to remember how we got here and for the foreigners to understand how we got there as well.The reaction has been new because Zayar is something new and exciting for both Burmese communities and overseas. The film is about a traumatized Burmese kid, finding his place in America. The film acts as a metaphor for Myanmar political situation. Zayar is the people and America represents freedom. Now that we have a little bit more freedom in the country, it is up to the people to choose what kind of country they want. Zayar has to make a choice in a new country.
Following the previous question, through creating representations of these lives and experiences you are challenging the stereotype many conservative Burmese people have on immigration and the Burmese diaspora. Has it been difficult? Do you believe you are re-defining what it means to be part of the Burmese diaspora?
I myself encountered many racist incidents. I was bullied at New York high school by white and black kids, calling me names in the streets and theaters….if I entered a building with a hoodie and bag, securities would assume I was a Chinese delivery boy and talked down to me. I ain’t even mad though. I’m a nice guy with lots and lots of patience. I have friends all over the world literally. I never felt sorry for myself. In fact, I feel sorry for them because they spend their lives all angry and upset for the wrong reasons. That shit is tiring man. Besides, you will never get anywhere in life with that attitude. These things tickle me only. I just worry what I have to do, how I can help my friends and families and move forward.I guess I am re-defining what it means to be part of the diaspora. First of all, I have to apply visa now for the country where I was born. Second, it is expensive man! This whole immigration border concept is funny to me because no matter which citizen I am or where I am on this planet…..my friends are my friends. My family is my family. My ex girlfriends are my ex girlfriends. My life is my life. Like my best friend Z would say “I’m not saying that I’m glad it happened but hey….I’m glad it happened.” It gives me unique perspectives that most people can’t see. That helps me a lot with jobs, writing new music and films. It keeps life interesting and keeps you on the edge. Again, literally.
Tell us a little about what inspired you to become a filmmaker, composer, and get into film and television. Being aware of the film industry in Myanmar, do you have any advice or words of encouragement for those who want to get into film and television?
Closing out our interview we would like to ask you what you see when you look at the country, and society as an artist and as a member of the community? Are there things, as a part of the diaspora and the larger community, that you would like to see changed?
I think this goes to any kids out there, music and film make you feel like home when your home doesn’t feel like home or when your life is blessed with awesome friends – it takes you somewhere you can’t get in reality. But the most magical part of it is when something abstract in your head becomes something physical that people can touch it, see it or hear it and you get to put out something in the world that people can enjoy and connect, I think that’s the best feeling in the world. Fame and fortune is just a plus.For inspiring artists, I do not specific guides how to break into the industry. What I have learned over the years is everyone likes to work with nice people, hard working people, talented people and healthy people. So make sure you eat right and stay healthy because film career is a long career. Success doesn’t come over a night. I worked tirelessly no weekends for 6-7 years from cleaning floors at convenience stores or at the gym to editing one of the films that was a finalist for an Oscar (Student Academy Award). We didn’t win this year so I will probably have to spend 7 years and maybe….just maybe one of the films might be nominated for Oscar again or not at all. So you make sure you love what you are doing otherwise you will quit.I just want to thank Yangon Literary Magazine for highlighting the artists’ stories. I want the young blood to know that what you do in Myanmar matters to the world. Please do not think you are nobody. Again, I was that kid that grew up during blackout era, there was only one SAT book that I could rent at one library only in the entire country. I didn’t even get to watch YouTube until I was 18 now y’all can stream like crazy. I cleaned floors and equipment at a gym for a living my high school and college years. Nothing good in life will be handed to you. I taught myself everything when the school couldn’t. You work hard for it. This goes to the old blood too. They need some reality check since the country is opening up. It is an exciting time to be in Myanmar. It will only get better. So cheers to that.