The story of female construction workers in Burma as they build a country that is rapidly changing
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Jalena Keane-Lee
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I was inspired to make this film after being awarded the Albright Fellowship for Global Affairs. The Albright Fellowship exposed me to world leaders and international issues, but I noticed the profound lack of personal narratives in the global decision making process. Part of the fellowship was a stipend to pursue an international project over the summer, which sparked this whole project and acted as seed funding for the film.
I was drawn to the idea of female construction workers because they pose a gender equality paradox. On the one hand, women physically building their environments is empowering and stands in stark contrast to the “men at work” signs and cat-calling culture associated with construction in the U.S. On the other hand, the women are paid significantly less and often hired because they are cheap labor.
Simultaneously, in the summer of 2016 when we were shooting the film, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy had just risen to power. She ushered in the first civilian government in over 50 years for Myanmar, and I grew up hearing stories about her and her freedom fighting ways from my mom. I was inspired to bring together a team of international female filmmakers to examine feminism among different socio-economic classes in Yangon, Myanmar. I wondered how having a woman lead the country impacted women on the ground, and at the time I thought the United States would be welcoming its first female leader as well.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Watch The Construct to get a glimpse of the beautiful country that is Myanmar. Watch The Construct to support a woman of color director and a female crew. Watch The Construct to learn about feminism in a global context.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The Construct: Female Laborers and the Fight for Equality examines feminism throughout different socio-economic classes in Yangon, Myanmar. The film addresses the concept of “double work,” that women work as their formal job and then come home and do all the work in the household. This idea is both a personal and universal theme that women around the world can relate to, even if they’re not construction workers. The film also touches on family, community, and the personal impact of political change.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
The script had a huge evolution in the editing room. Throughout production I had different story ideas based on different potential characters. We filmed in two months in the summer and had a hard deadline of needing to get back to finish college. Half-way through the summer I had a completely different script with different characters than what ended up in the final cut. That’s just how documentary is sometimes! Situations change and the story must adapt to what is real and what is possible.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
I’ve received positive feedback overall. The most common question is how I found out about this story and what made me want to pursue it, especially at such a young age. I am grateful to all my mentors who instilled in me the courage to follow my dreams and just get it done even when dominant culture questions my abilities.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I’ve gotten interesting feedback from American construction workers. I don’t have a background in construction, but for people who do it’s a very different viewing experience. I’ve gotten a lot of technical questions about the kind of cement they were pouring and their building strategy that I didn’t have the answer to. I love hearing from people in the field and their perspectives coming from an American context.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
My hope is that more people watch the film and get a glimpse of what life is like for female construction workers in Yangon, and learn that we have more similarities than differences.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I would be happy to talk with anyone interested in the topic and message of the film, and for individuals or groups interested in producing work in Myanmar I highly recommend reaching out to Tagu Films, the fantastic local production company I partnered with.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
My hope is that viewers witness the strength and resilience of the women in my film and that it inspires them to act to make the world more equitable for all people regardless of gender, nationality, race, or socio-economic status.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
How does feminism interact with wealth and class around the globe?
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am currently launching an all woman of color owned production company called Breaktide Productions and working on a few new documentary projects. Stay updated with me on insta or Facebook @jalena.kl.
Interview: January 2018
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTIQ+, scifi, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
The Construct: Female Laborers and the Fight for Equality
The story of female construction workers in Burma as they build a country that is rapidly changing.
Director: Jalena Keane-Lee
Producer: Jalena Keane-Lee
Writer: Jalena Keane-Lee
About the writer, director and producer:
Jalena Keane-Lee is the Director and Executive Producer of "The Construct: Female Laborers and the Fight for Equality," and a Co-Founder of Breaktide Productions, a new woman of color owned production company. She studied Film and Political Science at Wellesley College and has experience as a host for the international TV show Eco Company, journalist for CNBC, and video producer for Destiny Arts Center. She has written, directed, and starred in various short narrative films, and "The Construct" is her first experience directing a documentary film.
Jalena Keane-Lee has experience as a host for the international TV show Eco Company, journalist for CNBC, and video producer for Destiny Arts Center.
Key cast: Cheery Zahau, International Human Rights Activist, San Thi Da, 20-year-old laborer
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): Looking for anyone interested in the film and topic
Instagram: @bluepeelproductions @jalena.kl
Funders: Albright Institute for Global Affairs, Marin Chinese Cultural Association, individual donors through Seed&Spark
Made in association with: Tagu Films
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? You can stream The Construct on Seed&Spark and see it at the Seattle Asian Film Festival in February