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Fifty Years of Opium and Conflict in the Shan State of Burma: A Visual Retrospective: Event Details

Conference and film screening

General Description

"Fifty Years of Opium and Conflict in the Shan State of Burma: A Visual Retrospective”

 

Dates:  May 29th - 30th, 2015, University of Washington, Seattle

 

Locations of Events

 

Friday, May 29th:  Film Screening, Odegaard Library, Rm 220, 9am – 5 pm

Saturday, May 30: Panel Discussions, Husky Union Building (HUB), Room 334, 9am - 4:30pm

 

   

    This conference and film series highlights the work of documentary filmmaker Adrian Cowell, while exploring the intersections of US drug policy, opium use and the political and social conflict within the opium-growing region of Burma’s Shan State that are the geographical focus of Cowell’s work. By the mid-1960s, Burma had become one of the world’s largest exporters of illicit opium. As the Shan State became embroiled in conflicts involving both foreign and local armed groups, farmers increasingly specialized in opium cultivation. In 1965, Adrian Cowell along with Christopher Menges spent six months in the Shan State with one of its many resistance armies and visually documented the nexus between opium and conflict. This trip was the first of several extended visits to opium-producing areas undertaken by Adrian Cowell over the next three decades. The documentary footage shot during these trips remain one of the few first-hand depictions of opium trafficking in the Shan State. They continued to explore the issue of opium by investigating users in Hong Kong and policy debates in Washington, DC. This program aims to facilitate a greater understanding of the inter-relationships between questions of state control, ethnic conflict, and the drug trade.

   The UW Libraries Special Collections received the Cowell Southeast Asia film and research archives in 2013 along with a digitized version of journalist Bertil Lintner’s personal Burma archival collection. Linter is one of the most prolific journalists and writers to cover the political situation in Burma. His archives contain the materials for his books and articles. Through the donation by the Cowell family and Bertil Lintner, the UW Libraries Special Collection now possesses one of the most – if not the most - extensive archival collections of materials related to opium and conflict in Shan State.

   The event has two components: The first day is the screening of selected documentary films by Adrian Cowell. These are films shot not only in the Shan State, but also in other parts of Asia, such as Hong Kong, Thailand, and Tibet. Of these, Cowell’s Opium Series, a set of films, presents a uniquely comprehensive portrayal of the opium trade. It tracks the flow of opium from the highlands of Shan State to dealers and users in Hong Kong, while also providing an up-close portrait of policy makers in the United States. Bertil Lintner will provide commentary on the films and highlight their contribution to the study of conflict and narcotics.

 The second part explores Cowell’s documentary films along with key themes presented in them. Scholars will examine visual portrayals of the Shan State. A second group of panelists will discuss themes regarding opium, narcotics enforcement policies, and conflict in the Shan State and Afghanistan.

     The keynotes panel features Bertil Lintner and Al McCoy, two of the most accomplished researchers of the opium trade in the Shan State. McCoy's trailblazing book titled The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia presented a new paradigm for examining the nexus of narcotics and the Cold War in Asia. Bertil Lintner has authored several books, articles, monographs and book chapters on opium and the Shan State. One of which is Burma in Revolt, a detailed account of Burma’s civil wars and the numerous armed organizations. They, along with film scholar Patricia Zimmermann will provide commentary on the importance of Cowell’s films to both studies of Burma and US drug policy.

    The UW Libraries Special Collections received the Cowell Southeast Asia film and research archives in 2013, complimenting our digital holdings of journalist Bertil Lintner’s personal Burma archival collection to form one of the most significant extant archives on this opium-growing region. Linter is recognized as a prolific and insightful journalist covering the political situation in Burma. His archives contain the materials for his books and articles. Through the donation by the Cowell family and Bertil Lintner, the UW Libraries Special Collection now possesses one of the most – if not the most - extensive archival collections of materials related to opium and conflict in Shan State.

Primary Supporting Units:

University Libraries

Southeast Asian Studies Center of the Jackson School of International Studies