Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Burma VJ

It's hard to watch the film Burma VJ, directed by Andres Østergaard, without acknowledging it is an important film.

Not to criticize our knowledge of world affairs, but I would guess that while we have probably heard of Burma, located in the country of Myanmar, we probably no little about their current political challenges.

It was only in 2008 when a tropic cyclone devastated the region killing what is estimated at well above 100,000 people. During the disaster I remember hearing about some of the Burmese issues and the military junta in the country for the first time, and how the level 4 cyclone might allow for a breakdown in the military corruption as they might be forced to allow visitors into the country to serve the people who might not normally be accepted.

This devastating event is not the context of the film, but rather that context of my knowledge base. This documentary actually takes place in 2007, months before the cyclone.

This story is about the smuggling of video footage out of a country that controls it's citizens with fear doing everything it can to maintain control of the people, economy, and the way the Burmese engage with the world.

The film's Danish director tells the story of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and there role in putting pictures and video into the hands of media of the government's repression, and specifically a huge protest done by the Buddhist Monks in 2007.

What is compelling about this story to me is first that the footage seen in this film while edited together very carefully is also very raw. The film footage of the protest and scenes is done by amateurs on crude equipment trying to film discreetly. This is the film footage available, there is no other footage of these events. And what is amazing is how despite the limits, how so many scenes and angles and sounds are captured. It's powerful and important.

The second intriguing thing about this documentary is the way in Burma VJ simply tells a story. There are no interviews, second thoughts, scholarly explanations, or other accounts, rather the film has a solid narration by a young Burmese male named 'Joshua.'

His narration is seamlessly intertwined with the footage and story, and it's paced a such a calm storytelling quality that not only is it powerful, but also speaks a strong testimony to the technical work that went into this story.

This is an exceptional and compelling film. As one of the 15 films in competition for an Oscar nomination, I would think this film would certainly have a solid chance. As for an important story about current world stories of injustice, this film is one that is not just well made but also important.

This film gives two connected stories of social change in the midst of injustice, one is in the use of modern technology to have social impact. The second is in the use of religious authority as demonstrated by the Buddhist monks to extract social justice out of their religious status. To see these two different methods combined is a unique a moving experience in itself.

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