The Magway region of central Myanmar may be home to one of the world’s oldest petroleum industries, but the business’ possibilities do not trickle down to those extracting the lucrative product from the earth. Saeed Taji Farouky’s documentary A Thousand Fires focuses on husband and wife Thein Shwe and Htwe Tin, who live a precarious existence running an unregulated oil field. The days are filled with repetitive, often physically demanding tasks but also moments of reflection, levity, faith, and stillness. At night, they watch football on television and support their son’s own sporting aspirations, with hope and faith in a more comfortable future for him. 

Cinematographer and director Farouky is an unobtrusive eye even when prompting Shwe’s and Tin’s ruminations. The camera never rushes the time- and labour-intensive extraction processes, so far removed from the large-scale commercial “big oil” images in the media. This tightens the 90-minute film’s scope to the family only rather than the socioeconomic context of Myanmar’s oil industry. While this turbulent past is felt and key to the community’s instability and poverty, a detailed exploration is outside the scope of this very personal reality. 

This two-person operation takes a physical and emotional toll on Shwe and Tin; injuries are often treated at home, sometimes later than ideal. But as they give their son’s information to a fortune teller and coach his youth football team in victories and defeats, their dreams feel close. A Thousand Fires are both the field’s daily dangers and the family’s aspirations, just in sight.  

This slice-of-life documentary begins and ends with its subjects’ futures and pasts much the same. But A Thousand Fires, dedicated to the filmmaker’s parents, has unending belief in human perseverance against the odds. And facing the future with optimistic realism is sometimes all humans can do. 



CAST: Thein Shwe, Htwe Tin, Zim Ko Aung, Yoon Mi Mi Aung

DIRECTOR: Saeed Taji Farouk

WRITER: Saeed Taji Farouk

SYNOPSIS: In Myanmar’s Magway region, a husband and wife team run an unregulated oil field and hope to fund a better future for their son.