Film explores food as essential link to culture and traditions for Myanmar refugees

Published 17 March 2016

Mandy Hughes with Htun Htun Oo
A Coffs Harbour documentary highlighting the important role food plays within refugee communities has been selected as part of the Colourfest Film Festival which will screen around Australia for Harmony Day.

The documentary, created by Mandy Hughes, an academic and PhD candidate in Southern Cross University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences, has also been selected to screen at a range of international film festivals.

The film, titled ‘The Last Refuge: Food Stories from Myanmar to Coffs Harbour’, will screen in Coffs Harbour at the Jetty Theatre on March 21.

It will also screen at the Ethnografilm festival in Paris in March; the International Ethnographic Film Festival of Quebec, in Canada; Antropofest in the Czech Republic; One with a Movie camera: Marburg International Ethnographic Film Festival, Germany; and the Viscult Ethnographic Film Festival in Finland.

Mandy, who has a background in media working with the ABC and SBS, produced the film as part of her PhD which is investigating the social and cultural role of food for refugees.

“The documentary is about the social and cultural role of food in settlement for people from refugee backgrounds and it focuses totally on the Myanmar community in Coffs Harbour. It looks at things like, when you arrive what kind of challenges do you face? Things like going shopping, which we take for granted but that’s actually a really challenging thing if you can’t speak English and you can’t find the kind of food you are familiar with,” Ms Hughes said.

“I am also really interested in how food can continue people’s culture and traditions, especially for refugees who fled their homeland with nothing. They have their stories and they have their recipes and their recollection of food, but they don’t necessarily have any material culture with them.

“Coming to a new and unfamiliar country, cooking can be a way to connect to their culture. The other thing I have discovered is there are some really prolific gardeners in the community and they are growing rare Burmese jungle foods and all sorts of herbs and plants that you can’t buy in a supermarket.

“They are sharing seeds and cuttings among the community so they can continue that gardening tradition.

“The most important thing is that the people in the documentary can reconnect with their culture and feel proud about coming from a particular tradition,” she said.

Photo: Mandy Hughes with Htun Htun Oo, one of the leaders of the Coffs Harbour Myanmar community who arrived in Coffs Harbour in 2003.

Media contact: Brigid Veale head of Communications and Publications Southern Cross University, 66593006 or 0439 680 748.