Movie of the Week: Burma VJ (2008)

2007 saw the obvious, but the unthinkable. Thousands of Burmese monks took to the streets of Rangoon to call for the end of the brutal military government which has held power for the past 40 years. During an election in the early 90’s, the overwhelming popular support for the Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy was demonstrated in more than 90% of the votes. Despite this, the military junta forcefully remained in office and continues to govern through a sham civilian Parliament to this day. Since that time, popular demonstrations have been met with violence, a long string of student led protests ending in the deaths of more then 3000 people,. shot dead in the streets. The “Saffron Uprising” of 2007 was widely thought to be the final straw of one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.

Journalists are largely barred from reporting in Burma. To obtain news on current events in Burma, news organizations must depend on the sham state news services or on more than 30 brave anonymous journalists dotted throughout the country. Similar to a group of journalists in North Korea, the reporters are armed with small, handheld video cameras and cell phones. Journalists document important political events and send video by satellite to a rebel Burmese television station based in Oslo, Sweden. During the monk uprising of 2007, this would prove essential letting the world know the state of events, the mass support for democratic change in Burma, and the brutal and violent response of the military government.

Anders Østergaard weaves the journalists events of 2007 into a tight narrative, using actual a mix footage sent out at the time, and recreated events. The veracity of the story is sometimes somewhat suspect, recreated scenes appearing forced and improbable, but the overall message of the bravery and risk that these video journalists face cannot be overshadowed. The journalists are never named and their faces concealed. However, despite its problems, “Burma VJ” is an inspiring document of the hopes of a repressed people for a better government.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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