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Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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 Astergaard was originally planning to make a small half-hour portrait of a young Burmese video reporter, aJoshuaa, 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 Burmaas 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 countryas 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 a and then they themselves became targets of the authorities.


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

Special Features


Product Details

  • Directors: Anders Østergaard
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Dubbed, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: Danish
  • Dubbed: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Oscilloscope Laboratories
  • DVD Release Date: June 15, 2010
  • Run Time: 84 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002BWP3WU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,940 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Arnold TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 1, 2009
I had the chance to see this movie when it went on tour and stopped in my city. I loved it. It is an extremely well-made documentary, but, oddly enough, seems more like an dramatic movie than a documentary. It follows several undercover journalists in the military dictatorship of Burma. The film follows them as they document the anti-government protests that took place in 2007 (also known as the "Saffron Revolution"). The film keeps a quick pace and I actually found it quite suspenseful, even though the events took place over two years ago. The viewer is never sure whether the journalists will successfully evade arrest or even survive their next encounter. For those viewers not as familiar with the events of the Saffron Revolution, I expect the film will be all the more exciting.

On another note, the footage in the film is incredible. The journalists used primarily handheld Sony videocameras, often hidden in bags in order to evade military spies. Yet, they filmed some incredible moments. Much of their documentation was fed to the international media and made headlines in September 2007. However, Burma VJ shows uncut versions of those scenes. Some of the images, such as the massive crowds cheering on the monks as they sang Robin Hood-esque songs, brought tears to my eyes. What those journalists did was incredibly brave, and unfortunately some of them lost their freedom in their attempt to tell the truth about Burma. This film is a wonderful testament to their courage.

If you're not as familiar with Burma, you might want to check out Beyond Rangoon, a historical fiction about the 1988 protests, for some background before you go.

If Burma VJ is playing in a theater near you, definitely check it out. Hopefully it will show in a general release or be issued on DVD soon.
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Let me put this into perspective of how powerful this film is. People died to give you this footage. This isn't an indie film crew trying to do a story on the Burmese in the safety of the local Holiday Inn. This is Burmese citizens facing fear of death every day to bring you the truth.

You will recognize some of the footage if you were watching the news on Burma at the time. The VJ's in this film were the ones that smuggled footage to western news agencies.

The bulk of the film takes place during the Saffron Revolution. In the footage you can feel the nervousness of the people, the fear of being disappeared. And then the most incredible acts of defiance in the face of almost certain death. This film made me cry a couple times and tears don't come easily to me. The film is narrated throughout and you empathize with the frustration of the narrator because as the audience we are as powerless to stop the killing as he is. This film stands as a testimony to their lives as well as the monks and activists that are currently locked up in secret prisons and executed.
You need to watch this film.
This is what Democracy looks like.
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As a journalist who has reported from Asia and understands the life-and-death pressures in Burma (or Myanmar), I highly recommending this new-to-DVD documentary. "Burma VJ" is essential viewing for anyone concerned about grassroots peacemaking, powerful new-media tools and the awe-inspiring courage that religious convictions can fuel in ordinary men and women. We've all seen far too much TV footage of homicidal suicide bombers--religious fervor fueling the destruction of innocent lives. In "Burma VJ," we see ordinary men and women courageously risking and sometimes sacrificing their own lives on behalf of peace.

One wonders: Why do these people do it? Their chance of peacefully toppling the ruthless military government of Burma/Myanmar is slim. In fact, as you know before you even watch this film, the protesters did not succeed in the 2007 movement. So, why even atempt this challenge? The question is answered by one of the young filmmakers in "Burma VJ" who dares to shoot footage of Buddhist monks attacked by thugs from the military dictatorship. Why do these monks inspire this young man? He answers: "They are acting out of their knowledge of history. They are not acting out of anger."

Stunning. Their faith is unshakeable in its assumption that goodness will prevail. If not 20 years ago in the last major protests, if not in the 2007 protests--then in the next wave they are organizing secretly even as you read this review. And we're not talking about mere risks. Toward the end of the film, your heart will break in a scene that was carried by news networks around the world: a beaten monk's body drifting away in a river.
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I saw this movie at SXSW last year, and it really interested me because my mom and her side of the family is from Burma. I knew that there were problems going on in Burma, but I wasn't really familiar with any more details regarding the problems. Watching the footage made me feel as though I was watching something that I wasn't allowed to watch, and I wanted everybody to watch and learn what was going on in Burma. Everybody should be able to record and document what is going on in life, and I really appreciate Anders Østergaard going out and making a film about the problems in Burma.

After watching the movie, I felt so much more educated about the subject. I wanted to learn more about it, and I wanted my mom and the rest of my huge family to watch it. I told everyone about it, and it was definitely my favorite documentary at SXSW 2009...and probably of the whole year. I'm so glad that it received an Oscar nomination, and I really think it should have won.
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