International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Review
There are very few movies or documentaries that show just how severe
life is for civilians in Burma. It is only fitting that a group
of committed local Burmese reporters from the Democratic Voice of
Burma (DVB) fill this void by capturing the footage of the 2007
uprising led by monks, otherwise known as the Saffron Revolution.
In doing so, they are making the news for reporting the facts and
risking their life to capture images that the BBC and CNN could
only dream of covering in-country, as they are banned from setting
foot in Burma.
Burma VJ is a documentary
directed by Anders Østergaard and follows the experience of "Joshua"
and his colleagues. Armed with a camcorder, he takes viewers through
the streets of Rangoon and into his underground operation with flair
and dignity, sharing his fears and insights as dissatisfaction with
the military juntas decision to double fuel prices gathers momentum.
The documentarys strength is that it thrusts ordinary people into
the spotlight as heroes over six weeks, starting with a furious solo
demonstrator and following a trail to what eventually became a mass
peoples movement, backed by Burmas revered Buddhist monks.
The Burmese juntas suspicion of any negative reporting about its
operations of the country has kept a blanket ban on international media
outlets entering the country. Yet the DVB secretly captures footage
of one armed forces officers frustrated rant declaring the DVB
as their number one enemy.
Bypassing Burmas strict censorship laws, Joshua downloads footage
from a home computer to the DVBs satellite television station
in Oslo, and then re-sent worldwide news agencies and beamed back into
Burma, giving civilians their first glimpse of events as described by
a medium other than state-run news.
The raw production retains a rough "on the streets" edge demonstrating
the degree of nervousness possessed by individuals in a warzone risking
their life to gain a crucial story.
There are many touching scenes in the documentary which make the Saffron
Revolution an important event to commemorate. Thanks to reporters like
Joshua the world will not forget harrowing vision of the military junta
launching tear gas attacks and opening fire on Rangoons streets.
In years to come, we will continue to talk about the footage where hundreds
of soldiers gradually closed in on monks praying for reconciliation
before marching them away to their gruesome fate. This scene, along
with the brutal shooting of a Japanese cameraman by armed forces as
he ran for his life, is as poignant as the lone student who confronted
Chinese army tanks in the middle of Beijings streets in the Tiananmen
Square massacre in June 1989.
For a number of days, as technology permitted, the world watched on
helplessly as soldiers prepared themselves to slowly choke the life
out of the monks who were praying for the souls of their murderers while
asking everybody to come together. The sight of monks gathering en masse
is inspirational, while their eventual last few moments after being
led away, shot and dumped on the streets (in one case, left floating
in a river), is sickening.
After the uprising is crushed, we are reminded that life goes on. "It
is like something has been broken and cannot be repaired. But this (reporting)
is my job," says Joshua. To people like Joshua, a camcorder not
only gives their profession a sense of purpose, but also in times of
civil unrest is as lethal as a firearm in the hands of a soldier.
In an era where quality journalism is being compromised for marketability,
ratings and special effects, Burma VJ leads the way in showing that
ethical reporters willing to risk their life, rather than reputation,
are more likely to deliver a much-sought after truth.
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