Kudos to Oscilloscope Laboratories for their decision to distribute this crucially important documentary, Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country
. This Academy Award-nominated feature-length film charts the revolutionary tactics that a small media outpost, Democratic Voice of Burma, has undertaken to smuggle video footage out of their country. Director Anders Østergaard treats the narrative with reporter's accuracy, yet manages to convey the emotional upheaval and sheer grief that Burmese populations are experiencing under militaristic government rule. Burma VJ
is narrated by "Joshua," an exiled head reporter at the DVB's television station, which is in enough constant peril that they use a secret mail process to get all Burmese news footage directly shipped through courier to safe haven in Norway. Joshua, whose name was changed to protect his identity, describes the current political climate in Burma with gentle intelligence, while his video footage, shot from an unbelievably pathetic selection of what seems to be about five coveted video cameras and cell phones, illustrates his points. While there are short interview clips featuring citizens who risk their lives to speak out or put a hand to the camera for fear of discovery, most footage chronicles the 2007 uprising in Rangoon, where Buddhist monks lead the masses in a peaceful protest to free key military prisoners. Their demonstrations and the passions that permeate their formation are chilling and inspirational. Viewers beware, as one witnesses, following these gatherings, monks being violently beat up, bloodied, and even killed. To the film's credit, the violence is edited so that it is potent and disturbing, but does not dwell on the deceased in a disrespectful or sensationalistic manner. Spending ample time listening to the monks' speeches, and on watching interviews with them directly, one develops sympathy for their pleas for help and would be hard-pressed not to become a converted supporter. An extras feature on the DVD offers longer interviews with several politically engaged monks, who intelligently and tragically explain their nation's crisis and their frustrations with lack of United Nations aid. By the end, one wonders why other countries, including the United States, have stood idly by while innocent citizens and holy men beg for help. Ultimately, Burma VJ
is not only a rallying cry but also a meditation on the contemporary state of independent media outlets, analyzing what they can and can't achieve as solo endeavors. Essential viewing here. --Trinie Dalton
This film offers a rare inside look into the 2007 uprising in Myanmar through the cameras of the independent journalist group, Democratic Voice of Burma. Anders +++stergaard was originally planning to make a small half-hour portrait of a young Burmese video reporter, "Joshua", member of an underground network of activists who daily risk their lives to document the oppressive conditions in the country. Then suddenly, in September 2007, chaotic events involving the rebellion of Buddhist monks against Burma's military junta not only threw the local video reporters into the assignment of a lifetime, it also forced the Danish filmmaker to retool his project. While 100,000 people (including thousands of Buddhist monks) took to the streets to protest the country's repressive regime that held the country hostage for over 40 years, foreign news crews were banned to enter the country and the Internet was shut down. The Democratic Voice of Burma, a collective of 30 anonymous and underground video journalists (VJs) recorded these historic and dramatic events on handycams and smuggled the footage out of the country, broadcasting it worldwide via satellite. Risking torture and life imprisonment, the VJs vividly document the brutal clashes with the military and undercover police - and then they themselves became targets of the authorities. DVD FEATURES: Audio commentary with BURMA VJ Director Anders +++stergaard and film critic John Anderson; FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM - a video interview with BURMA VJ Joshua; Burmese Monks' stories from the uprisings televised on Democratic Voice of Burma; A video message from Richard Gere; CROSSING MIDNIGHT - a riveting film about refugees on the Thai/Burma border.