‘Burma VJ’ grabs you

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, August 27, 2009 9:24pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

If “Burma VJ” sounds a little obligatory, like something you’d see because it was good for you, rest assured: This is a gripping documentary.

Mostly consisting of footage shot by journalists with cheap video cameras, the film chronicles the 2007 citizen protests in Burma. (That country is called Myanmar by its ruling military dictatorship, but everybody in the film calls it Burma.)

Danish director Anders Ostergaard strings these sequences together with minimally dramatized material that provides a narrative line for watching the film — and also re-creates the experiences of his main protagonist, a real-life underground journalist called “Joshua.”

Joshua is a member of the Democratic Voice of Burma, an organization of journalists. Using their small cameras and their ability to blend in with crowds, they film examples of the government’s harsh oppression, then smuggle the footage out of the country — either by mail or the Internet.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because those methods became visible during the recent riots in Iran, which led to much talk about a new kind of citizen journalism. The events in Burma in 2007 were just as stirring as the recent election protests in Iran.

In August 2007 demonstrations began to ripple across Burma, and in September the country’s Buddhist monks walked into the streets and kept walking. One-hundred thousand marchers joined the monks in Rangoon.

At that point, the military junta had had enough and the machine guns came out. The remarkable video footage that members of the DVB got of these marches is the core of the movie.

We never see Joshua’s face, although we see him in silhouette in the re-created sequences. But “Burma VJ” has a star, even if we barely see her face either: Aung San Suu Kyi, who keeps the flame of democracy flickering ever so slightly in her country.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, should have been installed as the prime minister of Burma after her party’s overwhelming victory in a rare free election in 1990; instead, she’s been imprisoned, mostly at her home, ever since.

The monks’ pilgrimage to her house in 2007 is the emotional high point of “Burma VJ.”

Unfortunately, since that moment, things have not changed for the better in this oppressed country. Maybe there’ll be a sequel with a more promising ending, shot by protestors with videocams and reported on Twitter.

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