JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country (Director: Anders Østergaard) - August 6, 2009

Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country

Burma VJ: Reporter i et lukket land

4.5 4.5
80 min.

Becoming the media

Unintentionally, the success of systemic military oppression is aptly demonstrated in Anders Østergaard’s compelling study of outlawed video journalists in their own country.

As told through the far-reaching eyes (real and handycam), personal experience and coolly-emotional narration of “Joshua” (identity protected as he is still in the field), the sense of outrage grows as large as the demonstrations but individual freedom seems just as distant now as at the beginning of the junta’s rule in 1988.

The film is a marvel of editing (Janus Billeskov-Jansen and Thomas Papapetros) and narrative technique. Hundreds of hours of smuggled-out VJ footage create the literal first-hand depiction of how, finally driven over the edge of docility by the sudden doubling of petrol prices (August 15, 2007), the few became the many: change must come now! To bind those gritty, inspiring and devastating images together, cinematographer Simon Plum re-creates Joshua’s temporary exile in Chiang Mai, Thailand. With the situation heating up in Rangoon, management of the Democratic Voice of Burma (based in Denmark) send their ablest hand to relative safety so that he can coordinate his colleagues’ coverage and communication.

Told largely in Joshua’s own words, Østergaard and Jan Krogsgaard’s taut script wisely relies on more show than tell. From time to time (notably George W. Bush’s comments: the autocratic brain trust of Burma must be some relieved they don’t have huge oil reserves beneath their soil), clips from international “professional” broadcasters are intercut, revealing the success of the determined reporters in letting the world see the results of a brutally repressive regime (more than 3,000 protestors—mainly students—were slaughtered by their uniformed countrymen during the last major attempt at civil disobedience in 1988).

Conny Malmqvist’s original score is ideally composed, mixing brass, guitar and bell colours with an eerily electronic tone and the ominous foreshadowing of wide-ranging strings. A stunning few seconds of silence prior to the inevitable onslaught of retribution prepares that moment unforgettably.

For those unfamiliar with recent events, hope abounds as thousands of peace-seeking monks march through the streets and, Pied Piper-like, draw the public into their number. The orange-robed Buddhists seek change (“We demand a dialogue!”) for the sake of their flock—especially the poor, whose numbers are increasing dramatically with the price gauging. Their followers desire a political solution, real democratic reform and the release from house arrest (at various times since 1990) of political activist/Prime Minister-elect Aung San Sun Kyi (the postponed results of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s trial are expected on August 11, 2009).

For those up-to-date with the cyclone-ravaged state, the deadly victory of Big Brother seems as secure as the populace is disillusioned. “We have no more people to die,” says Joshua, but the intrepid journalist and what remains of his team will continue to courageously become the media. JWR

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Director - Anders Østergaard
Producer - Lise-Lense Møller
Cinematography - Simon Plum
Original Music - Conny Malmqvist
Featuring - Aung San Suu Kyi
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
Kinosmith Oscilloscope Laboratories
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