Film Albright Fellow Jalena Keane-Lee ’17 Captures Narratives of Burmese Female Construction Workers

August 17, 2016

Each year, 40 Wellesley students are chosen as Albright Fellows in the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs. The transformative program starts with a Wintersession program and leads to internship placements at leading organizations around the world. Jalena Keane-Lee ’17, a 2016 Albright Fellow, has spent her summer filming a documentary about gender equity through the lens of female construction workers in Yangon, Myanmar.

According to a project website, the film captures the “compelling personal narratives of Burmese female construction workers, giving a voice to the women physically constructing development in what has been until recently one of the most isolated nations in the world.”

“The Albright Institute played a huge role in this project,” Keane-Lee said. “They provided the seed funds to make the idea of traveling across the world and shooting a documentary seem even plausible [and] the Wintersession program itself taught me a lot about global issues and how they are addressed through policy.”

During the Albright Institute Wintersession, Keane-Lee said she realized that first person narratives are largely left out of the international dialogue. “I realized that documentary filmmaking is a great way of brining unheard voices to the table,” she said. “Even if the UN can't bring a group of female construction workers in to discuss labor laws with international diplomats, those women's voices can still be heard and their stories can be told through the documentary format.”

Keane-Lee, who is a Political Science and Cinema & Media Studies double major said this project felt like a great way to bridge her passions and academic interests. “In the fall I studied abroad at film school in Prague and I learned firsthand the kind of roadblocks women and especially women of color are up against in the film industry,” she said. “Coming back from Prague I wanted to use the technical skills I learned to tell the stories I felt passionate about and the stories that featured and valued people like me.”

She said she chose Myanmar because she already had connections to the film community there and was able to link up with a wonderful local production company. “Myanmar is also an amazing location because it is going through a huge period of transition and just opening up to the outside world,” she said. The country just elected its first civilian government in 53 years. She explained in a video, “We want to look at how these changes are affecting women on the ground and are impacting the women that are literally doing the work of development.”

Follow updates from Keane-Lee about her documentary, “The Construct: Female Laborers and the Fight for Equality,” and her production company Blue Peel Productions, on her project website.