Yellow Glass Media | Courtesy Photo

Drugs. Communism. War.

These are three of the reasons that Lahu native Moody Thiranai escaped to Thailand, where he set up a dormitory for underprivileged children.

Civil engineering senior Daniel Hornett heard Thiranai’s story on an Engineering Without Borders trip to Thailand and came up with a bold idea: make a documentary of Thiranai’s life.

“In summer 2015, I was listening to the life story of one of the community members, Moody, and was struck by the humanness of it in that I had never heard a story like that in person,” Hornett said. “He told it with such love and no regrets. He was pretty incredible.”

Hornett came to Cal Poly hoping to convince his friend Michallyn Hoffman, industrial engineering alumnus, to aid him in his endeavors. They joked about it but soon became serious about making a documentary. The two perused LinkedIn to find potential team members and landed on one profile: Nesrine Majzoub, a videographer. They were impressed by her and after a quick interview, sociology senior Majzoub became the third member of their team.

Once their team was in place, they needed funds for the project. They began with a Kickstarter campaign, calling themselves Unreasonable Productions. After exceeding their Kickstarter goal, the team went to Thiranai’s village in Thailand this past summer to document his story.

Yellow Glass Media | Courtesy Photo

Sa La: Moody Thiranai’s story  

Born and raised in Burma, Thiranai started his career as a teacher. However, in 1990 he was imprisoned for using and selling opium. In prison, despite having no medical experience, Thiranai became the doctor for more than 500 inmates. In search of refuge, Thiranai escaped to Northern Thailand where he now lives. Although he is 90 percent blind, he runs a dormitory for children who were affected by drugs and poverty.

“The goal of [the] film is to tell the story of Moody and family because despite them working so hard and having to go through so many problems and issues throughout their lives, they are still so happy and excited to be doing what they’re doing,” Majzoub said.

Thiranai is one of about one million Lahu, an ethnic group of Chinese and mainland Southeast Asian people. Thousands of Lahu become refugees from military rule in Burma and China. With the documentary, Majzoub wanted to show that when visiting other countries, it is important to understand the different cultures instead of being so quick to judge.

“We recognized that it is really easy as westerners to fall into, ‘Well, they live in a hut, they’re more poor than we are so we should teach them how to be western,’” Majzoub said. “That really doesn’t take into account their cultural ideologies and so we kind of want to touch on — from both our perspective and Moody’s perspective — what’s the best way to travel and work together with one while learning from each other rather than imposing ideals.”

Additionally, creating the documentary showed the team the power of connecting in a modern world.

“Something else I think we have all seen recently is this incredible amount of sharing happening on social media, [it’s] easy to connect with them in Thailand,” Hornett said. “As divided as the world is with borders and laws and wars, there is an incredible power to connect people and bring together that global conversation.”

The team is editing Sa La and hopes to complete the documentary by this spring. Their plan is to host a screening with friends and family in May.

Yellow Glass Media | Courtesy Photo

Yellow Glass Media

After starting the creation of the documentary under the name Unreasonable Productions, the team wanted to expand. However, that required rebranding. Out of their brainstorming came Yellow Glass Media.

After rebranding, the team sought to become a business, but didn’t have the means or background to do so. Through the grapevine, they heard about the Cal Poly Center For Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Hatchery program. The Hatchery program provides mentorship to students interested in launching a business. Now, the team has more opportunity to grow as a startup.

Next steps: Washington, D.C.

On the day of the election, the members of Yellow Glass Media met to reflect on the results. They knew the importance of storytelling in this critical time and, regardless of their political beliefs, decided to create a film outlining the political and social climate in America.

The team flew to Washington D.C. where they attended President Trump’s inauguration. They also attended protests and planned to interview National Public Radio and people in PACs.

“It is about a way we can compromise and how we can understand each other from here,” Hornett said. “I think our nation is pretty divided and there are a lot of feeling[s] and events happening that are turbulent.”

Yellow Glass Media wants to provide a unique perspective in their second film, they said.

“We are not trying to take a political stance and are hoping to provide a perspective that is available to all sides,” Majzoub said. “We want to capture people’s stories and humanize other sides so that we can have these types of conversations that will be productive and unify[ing].”

They posted a teaser a few days after the inauguration and plan to release the full film, Voices of the Votes, early February.

This is not the last from Yellow Glass Media. They have big plans to continue their business and keep telling stories.

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