Depicting a Golden Kingdom

When films examine a subject in detail, it’s sometimes described as a “meditation on…” that particular theme. Golden Kingdom, a 2015 film by Brian Perkins, fits this expression in more ways than one. Brian himself is a dedicated meditator, which affected the artistic choices he made as director. For example, Brian and his crew slept in the monastery for the duration of the shoot, and he spent every morning meditating before he started filming. This meditative approach also gave him the space to linger on certain shots, encouraging a patience on the part of the viewer. Golden Kingdom tells the story of four Buddhist novices in Shan State, whose Sayadaw is called away on urgent business, leaving them alone in a remote monastery. The plot then takes a dark turn when conflict breaks out, and survival becomes the central issue. But the story arc is not the typical, linear/logical structure of Western narratives; the workings of karma are acknowledged, and Burmese folk elements begin to blend into reality, along with a childlike perspective that creeps in as a way to shape the audience’s understanding of what is taking place. The genesis of the film is a story in itself. Brian had visited Myanmar some years previously as a backpacker, and stumbled on that monastery. The setting inspired a movie full-blown in his head.  However, turning his dream into a reality was anything but easy. In making his preparations to return, Brian found himself on a government blacklist. But he eventually found a way in, with just a one-week visa, and his crew had to disassemble and smuggle in much of the operating equipment. It was a long hike from the nearest town, and everything had to be hauled in on bamboo poles, including generators because the remote monastery didn’t have electricity. Once the film was completed, the digital files were copied on hard disks, and smuggled out by friends unaffiliated with the movie. Meanwhile, one of his translators tried to extort him, and Brian had overstayed his visa, so had to pay a “fixer” to be able to exit the country. Still, he feels it was all easily worth it in the end.

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