From October 3, the Doc Alliance Films documentary portal presents Burma VJ, a unique media account of the struggle against totalitarianism. Portraying the violent suppression of the Saffron Revolution in Burma, the compilation documentary has struck the world by its rawness and authenticity. Burma VJ is an ultimate mixture of radical street reports. Hundred per cent “Photoshop free”!
In September 2007, the world’s media showed scenes of the alarmed Burmese crowding the streets of their cities in a rather shy and cautious way. Regarding the fact that the last time the country has seen similar scenes was nineteen years ago, it was no wonder that the shaky images from small hand-held cameras raised great attention and expectations. The flow of images from Burma did not cease even after the martial law took control of the streets of Rangoon and after it became clear that not even the ethos of the monastic revolt could defeat the military dictatorship and its armed malevolence. The unique account of the price of freedom in one of the world’s most isolated states came from a small group of “underground” amateur reporters; Burma VJ represents both their legacy and their homage.
The film is based on the combination of original scenes made by Burmese volunteers and reconstructed scenes depicting the background of the key unit of Democratic Voice of Burma, Burma’s exile medium. However, it can only be as open as the rules of guerrilla combat will allow. That is why the faces of the main protagonists are never shown clearly. Director Anders Østergaard hides them by means of the recursive camera, veiling them in shadows or in the blinding light. After all, as the commentary says, it is not the individual people but rather the things they do that is important; to be on the spot, shoot, not get caught, survive, get back. The identity of the media guerrillas merges with the identity of the crowd. Their faces are the faces of the protesters. Their strength consists in the raw eyewitness accounts born on the front lines of those “who are not afraid to die“.
However, the film is not a memorial of the Saffron revolution or the Burmese dissidents. This role has been taken up by others; e.g. by Luc Besson’s latest opus The Lady dealing with the life story of key Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma VJ goes beyond the scheme of classic film reconstruction. Rather than depicting the things that have happened, it rather points out that these things are still happening. The film tries to make its audiences follow the story of the Burmese people even after the film ends. This is achieved not only by means of the final title suggesting that the “story goes on”; the message has been organically incorporated in the film style. With its emphasis on the present, on the current events, on the immediate experience and on sensation, the film is closer to a news report rather than a cinematographic narrative. That is what makes it into an optimal activist tool. However, it would be a pity if the well-intentioned challenges, activist appeals and charity projects overshadowed the fact that Burma VJ is primarily a remarkable and impressive film.
The streaming of Burma VJ at www.docalliancefilms.com is for free. However, if you decide to pay for the download of the film, Doc Alliance Films will send your payment to the bank account of International Media Support , an organization supporting independent media in numerous conflict areas of the world, including Burma.
Doc Alliance is a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals. Our aim is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and promote quality creative documentary films.