I’m not an expert on punk rock, Buddhism, or the political situation in Myanmar. However, My Buddha Is Punk is the kind of documentary that is gripping regardless of your personal connection to the subject. The film focuses on Kyaw Kyaw, a 25-year-old trying to establish a punk scene in his home country. His motivations are as political as they are musical.
Kyaw Kyaw thinks the reforms the government has made are not big enough, and freedom is still not real for his country. And some of the footage in the documentary underscores that in the most harrowing manner. Myanmar is a country where “religious unrest” and politically motivated police actions occur regularly. And so Kyaw and his band, The Rebel Riot, take to the streets. They use a combination of protests and punk rock to spread awareness of religious persecution and other human rights injustices.
But the government is not their only obstacle. Kyaw and his compatriots are often derided or mocked due to their punk style of dress and hair. They are often trying to explain what punk is, and how it informs their ethos. The marriage of punk rock and Buddhism may seem odd, but Kyaw’s philosophy seems coherent. As he explains it, punk is being autonomous and celebrating the individual. Buddhism urges for peace and tolerance. He unites them and uses them to reinforce each other, all while learning how to be a better Buddhist and a better punk. The scenes in the film where the band try to teach other burgeoning punks about their philosophy are some of the best, and captures the difficulties of having a mass movement that is non-hierarchical.
While what I’m describing about the film feels distant, My Buddha is Punk is much more intimate than that. We’re mostly following The Rebel Riot in their day to day, reading the news, practicing music, and spreading their message. It gives a glimpse of a nascent scene, but also the groundwork of trying to fight the power.
My Buddha Is Punk is having its Philly premiere during the Cinedelphia Film Festival on Sunday, April 23. Event details and tickets here.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan has been writing thoughtful film reviews and pop culture commentary on and off for over a decade. He spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area. His other interests include comic books, coffee, experimental beer, discovering new music, and books.