Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country
 
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Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country (2009)

Anders Østergaard  |  NR |  DVD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com

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

About the Director

Born 1965 director ANDERS ØSTERGAARD graduated from the Danish School of Journalism in 1991. Awarded Best Documentary at Odense International Film Festival in 1999 for The Magus. Writer-director on the international awarded Tintin et moi (2003), and the documentary about one of Denmark's most popular rock bands Gasolin (2006), which had a successful run at the domestic box office with 223,000 admissons. 2008: Burma VJ (2008): selected for Joris Ivens Competition and Movies That Matter, IDFA, Amsterdam. Sä kort og mærkeligt livet er, about the Danish poet Dan Turèll, was selected for the opening gala at CPH:DOX. Anders Østergaard (b. 1965) made his first big impression on Danish cinemagoers in 2006 with Gasolin', a documentary about a singularly popular Danish rock band from the 1970s. Though Gasolin', fronted by charismatic singer Kim Larsen, never gained a following outside Scandinavia, in Denmark they enjoyed years of Beatles-like stardom. Following its 1978 break-up, the group became part of the Danish cultural heritage. The Gasolin' film drew 223,000 Danes to cinemas, an exceptionally high number, not just for a documentary but by any standard. Mixing documentary footage with staged shots has been a hallmark of Østergaard's films almost from the beginning. A rare exception was Gensyn med Johannesburg (1996). In this relatively conventional documentary, Østergaard follows the Danish filmmaker Henning Carlsen on a trip to South Africa to revisit some of the people who appeared in Carlsen's Dilemma, a pioneering 1961 docudrama based on a novel by Nadine Gordimer and shot without the consent of the South African authorities. In his next film, Troldkarlen (1999), about the Swedish jazzman Jan Johansson who died on an icy road in 1968 at the age of just 37, Østergaard truly came into his own as a documentary filmmaker wielding a remarkably wide repertoire of filmic ideas, including the use of staged shots. Notoriously, he recreated Johansson's fatal car accident with a stand-in behind the wheel. This tendency was accentuated in Tintin et moi (2003), a film about Hergé, the creator of Tintin, that became Østergaard's international breakthrough. Adding 3D effects to Hergé s cartoons et the camera explore an otherwise two-dimensional universe, while a special animation technique brought the deceased cartoonist back to life. Hergé, whose real name was Georges Rémi, was almost as famous for being tight-lipped about his thought and feelings as for his comic adventures about the intrepid reporter Tintin. Accordingly, it caused widespread surprise in 1971 when an interview by a French student, Numa Sadoul, spontaneously evolved into a four-day talk. Without warning, the cartoonist had opened the floodgates, casting his 23-year-old listener in the role of psychoanalyst and commiserator. Østergaard wanted the audiotapes of this legendary interview to be the core of his film and, after long deliberation, the trustees of Hergé's estate finally released them. But the Danish filmmaker wasn't content simply to include Hergé's voice on the soundtrack. Using so- called sketch-line animation, he resurrected his subject as a speaking cartoon character, breathing life into material that, in the hands of a less inventive filmmaker, could easily have become just another dusty archival montage with talking heads.

Product Description

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.
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