Burma VJ (2009)

Director: Anders Ostergaard
Plot: Using smuggled footage, this documentary tells the story of the 2007 protests in Burma by thousands of monks.

Genre: Documentary/Crime/History 
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Documentary. Won World Cinema Documentary Film Editing Award, and nominated for Grand Jury Prize (Sundance).
Runtime: 84min
Rating: NC16 for disturbing images.


“We have to rely on handicams. But the things we did shook up the people of Burma, as well as the people around the world.

Burma VJ is a startling first-hand look inside Myanmar, a country ruled by an oppressive military regime. Infamous (and universally condemned) for their brutal crackdown against pro-democracy supporters in 1988 which claimed three thousand innocent lives, the generals till now are unwilling to give up their power and would use extreme measures to keep their people in check.

A team of video journalists from the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) has been using the power of technology and the mass media to send the world secretly-filmed footages of what happened during a similar crackdown on protestors by the regime in 2007, thus not only validating the use of media to expose the truth behind the generals’ collaborative denial of the incident, but also to give hope and strength to people around the world (and in Myanmar) that someday these evil people can be defeated.

Directed by Anders Ostergaard, Burma VJ is made up of mostly real video footage which is edited with a few scenes of re-enacted narration to give the film a more ‘watchable’ feel. Narrated by one of the video journalists involved who helps us to understand the situation on the ground by describing and commenting on events as they are happening, Burma VJ brings viewers to the lion’s den, the heart of the conflict.

The first two-thirds of the film documents from the beginnings of a mass protest (which eventually gained tremendous momentum) led by the respected monks who trek along the streets of the city for days to rouse the public into joining them, to marching towards the home of democratic icon and the country’s beacon of hope Aung Sang Suu Kyi (who was under house arrest at the time of this film’s release), and demanding for her release.

Close to half a million protestors took part in the most massive public show of disapproval for military rule since 1988. Monks and citizens alike, they chant slogans about peace and love, and about the need for democracy. Burma VJ captures this amazing spirit of collective optimism with remarkable intensity. Although we know the bloody consequences which await these people, we cannot help but also punch our fists into the air in a solidarity show of support for these brave souls.

The final third is at times graphically violent and deeply unsettling as the generals respond in the only way they know, that is through sheer firepower. The camera captures it all and the truth that goes along with it. Burma VJ is activist documentary filmmaking of the highest order, and I truly admire the courage and selfless sacrifice (some dying or arrested in the line of duty) these video journalists have shown. For a film made up of a myriad of moving images (shot in authentic shaky videocam style), Burma VJ manages to be coherent through impressive editing. However, its most lasting legacy is in its ability to inspire change.

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)

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