Burma VJ
Ooh, very meta.

Golden Mug


Editing (Janus Billeskov Jansen & Thomas Papapetros)

Theatrical Release Date: /2009 (USA), 11/12/2008 (Denmark)
Director: Anders Østergaard

One of the nominees for Best Documentary at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, “Burma VJ” is a heart-wrenching and sorrowful tale of the oppression that’s been going on in Burma since the military staged a coup in 1962 and installed successive repressive regimes (in 1989, the country officially changed its name to Myanmar but the legitimacy of the unpopular regime doing so depends on your point of view and you’ll see both names used by various agencies and countries alike).

Anders Østergaard is credited with putting all of the footage together, and he and his compatriots are to be commended for getting the footage out to world news organizations. However, the real credit goes to the Burmese video journalists who risk their lives to smuggle whatever video they can capture of the military abusing human rights and repressing the people with their rule.

What was so effective about the film was the sense of being there on the ground. I liken it, and I don’t mean any disrespect by this, to the film “Cloverfield“. By presenting the film as a series of captured video footage, the realism obtained really sinks into the psyche. That “Burma VJ” is actual reality only makes the experience that much more harrowing and when the reporters must run from the secret police or escape gunfire brought about by the military attempting to quell any sense of social revolution, the tension is palpable and unnerving. Even knowing that in order to be watching this footage means that the camera operator in question probably makes it out of a given situation doesn’t do much to lower the blood pressure while you’re hoping they aren’t caught or killed.

The film unfolds in an easy to follow chronological order, mostly centered around the 2007 public uprisings that garnered world attention. Back story regarding previous attempts to effect regime change are brought up and even if you know absolutely nothing about the country or its peoples’ plight, the film will catch you up so don’t use that as a reason to miss this.

There is one central narrator, a member of the small group of Burmese reporters who escapes to Thailand and helps to coordinate his fellow journalists to get the best and most effective footage possible. Hearing him speak about what they are doing and what it means to them is inspiring and heart breaking. Living in a country where freedom of speech is a fundamental right, we often forget that there are many other places where that’s a luxury few can ever dream of really attaining.

The only knock I have on the film is that there isn’t enough said about what we can do to help. In visiting the official website (burmavjmovie.com), there is a petition you can sign, the opportunity to spread news of their plight and a handy application allowing you to write the United Nations. Also, it would have been nice to see a clearer picture of what the international community has or hasn’t done to rectify the oppression going on in Burma still today.

For those reasons alone, I keep the film from attaining ratings perfection and instead give “Burma VJ” a 4.5 out of 5. But make no mistake, this is a must see documentary and is now getting aired on HBO so I urge everyone to give it a viewing (feel free to check Netflix or the like for DVD status). The issue is too important to remain ignorant of and the brave people risking their lives to show the world what’s happening deserve to be seen and heard.