When director Greg Hamilton and I first got the idea to make a film about chinlone, the traditional sport of Myanmar, we had no idea what we were in for. No one outside of Myanmar had ever heard of chinlone, Myanmar was on the opposite side of the planet, and very few people there spoke English. But shooting the game itself proved the biggest challenge.
Getting equipment into the country was easy. At first we traveled with small cameras, then later on we received permission to bring in professional gear and a crew. Because our film is cultural and not political, we had few problems dealing with officials – finding good locations was another story. Crowds would materialize wherever we started shooting, and the city of Mandalay was surprisingly noisy. We did our best shooting in relatively peaceful Buddhist monasteries and temples.
Chinlone is a non-competitive sport, but it is deceptively fast and difficult to shoot. While most sports such as tennis or soccer go back and forth, chinlone is omni-directional. The players spin and leap and even seasoned camerapeople had difficulty anticipating the direction of the ball or how the action would unfold.
In 2001, we did our first shoot with a crew. Greg was very clear that we needed to have a wide shot that kept the ball and the players in the frame at all times. A second camera was used for close-ups and audience shots, but coordinating the two wasn’t easy. The operators didn’t listen to the director. We came home with lots of pretty shots, but the visceral feeling of the chinlone playing was missing.
After another round of fundraising we went back. This time we brought an 18-foot jib, which gave us a very fluid view into the playing circle. The communication still wasn’t perfect and the cameras didn’t stay synched, which caused expensive headaches in the edit, but we got the footage we needed.
We were able to combine our earliest footage shot with the DigiBeta and Super 16, yet still maintain a coherent visual language. In the end, the mesmerizing beauty of the chinlone playing came through.