Control through fear: Milena Kaneva on information
Mon 19th Aug 2013
When I asked Milena Kaneva for an interview, she immediately and enthusiastically accepted. A curious mind and an engaging person, Milena Kaneva is a film director, who in 2006 produced one of the most inspiring films about Burma, Total denial.
The documentary is the story of how Karen villagers in Burma won over Western powers through the actions of two activists, Ka Hsaw Wa and his wife. The story centred on the building of a pipeline by Unocal. The pipeline was built next to the Andaman sea, connecting Burma with Thailand. Karen villagers "who stood in the way to progress" – in the words of the oil company’s managers – suffered a variety of human rights violations.
Ka Hsaw Wa led an 8 years lawsuit against Unocal and 15 Karen villagers sued Unocal for abusing their human rights. The film is an inspiring story of how Ka Hsaw Wa and the Karen villagers had their rights recognised in a US court.
Milena followed this story for 5 years, between 2000 and 2005. Milena’s career is not that of a ‘classic’ filmmaker or journalist. She started as an actress but inspired by the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, she founded the Free from Fear Foundation. The foundation’s aim is "to use the power of film, free media and other initiatives to educate and empower people about human rights and to denounce human rights violations everywhere".
Given the sensitive cases she focuses on, I started the interview by asking Milena "What is information?"
She smiled and started to construct a model from the available Lego bricks.
She said: "Information [is] all these pieces here, without having any connection. The fact is that information is the invisible knowledge which appears in different ways that you pick up first with your logic."
"Let’s start with the base". I ask. "There are two long bricks there. What are those bricks made of?"
"That would be the general knowledge of life" she replies.
"Where does it come from?" I probe.
"Where does it come from? It comes from the Universe! It comes from your subconsciousness, you are born with it, even before you know how to speak, you have it. I mean primary knowledge is shaped and controlled and put into forms and beliefs".
"Who puts it into shapes?"
"Society, though education in your family, people [who] teach you to walk, the meaning of the words, how to behave.
"Who is this person on the top?" I ask Milena, whilst examining her model.
"Hopefully that’s you, happily reigning [over] all this information; having your mind free to receive knowledge", she laughs.
"And how do you get there? I ask her.
She thinks for a second and refering to the Lego figure says "It’s sitting on the third eye" showing me the yellow brick with a symbol on it ."It means that if you have a good intuition, and open your third eye, you can [comprehend] everything."
"What is that transparent brick between the third eye and the human figure" I ask.
Looking at her model she says "It’s standing on a transparent [brick] which means that can only happen if you attain pure knowledge. Pure knowledge comes only if you don’t put the so called ego first - the ambitions and the expectation of your life.
I ask Kaneva about the two towers, which are substantially different in colour and shape. "What do they represent" I ask.
She stares at the bricks for a while and answers
"They can represent emotions", she says pointing towards the higher tower. "To be a happy and free person, you need to deal with all the dark sides, which are fears." Showing me the darker and grey tower she says "from the dark side you can see the light. If you are not on the dark side, you cannot see that there is light. So that means that if you accept being without fear, it gives you a great advantage and brings you into the light".
I listen to her and want to know more: "How does information relate to the fear?"
She answers "Nowadays, all information is about fear because fear keeps you in the dark. It keeps you enslaved to everything that society or the system wants to impose on you. Fear makes you give up your ability to act. But if you face the fears, then you see that there is no need to be fearful and that you are the master of your life. Then you cannot easily be manipulated. So, I learnt that it is a choice to be afraid. It is a mind game and that is why information these days is so controlled. I worked in a news agency and I have found out that the stories I am passionate about [do not always get published]. Every time I reported to the news editor in London, he said ‘Oh, this is not the story, because it is a good story… it doesn’t sell’. The first time I remember I was shocked. ‘What did you say?! Sell?’ ‘Yes, Milena, a positive story does not sell, so for us it is not a story.' It happened more than 15 years ago but this is already common knowledge: a positive story [is] not a story for news. They already distort the word story because a story in [the] news needs to be a disaster, an earthquake or somebody killing somebody."
Then she turns to the model and says "There you see the towers are equal. There are many inspiring things but nobody is reporting them because if you report a story in which people take back their power, it [inspires] many more people. So somehow for our society, this is not something that is useful because if you have people that know they can [exercise] power and know that they are the masters of their lives you can not control them."
What Milena Kaneva described is what she has been doing with her work: helping people to believe in themselves, proving that things can change, reporting positive and inspiring stories that can unmask fear, and proving that freedom comes from facing fears to become a free human being.