Anders Ostergaard’s Burma VJ opens in August of 2007 as a video journalist on a silent bus feels the static of change in the air. It closes in September of the same year with some of the most extraordinary acts of courage and selflessness I have ever seen on film. It is the story of an uprising in a closed country, of a people desperate for freedom and finding only repression and defeat. Finally, and against the odds, Burma VJ is a story about hope.
‘Joshua’ is a video journalist and a member of the DVB, the Democratic Voice of Burma, he and his colleagues are the only reason you and I ever glimpsed footage of the 2007 Burmese uprisings. On the BBC news we saw thousands of Monks empower frightened citizens to join them and march against a government who less than two decades before had killed 3,000 people in an attempt to quiet the very same dissent.
With Burma VJ, Ostergaard has permitted us access to this cloistered world. This astounding film recounts the history of the doomed uprising through the voices and images of the very people who went voiceless and faceless for so long. Narrator ‘Joshua’ and his colleagues risked imprisonment and death to bring the world the truth about Burma. Within days of watching that footage, the world moved on and forgot. This film stands as a reminder that Burma cannot.
“That is why I became a video journalist”¦at least I can show that Burma is still here.”
It is not an easy watch, some of the images are brutal and the sense of futility, in the light of what we know in 2009, palpable – but it is worth watching. This is filmmaking of the most fundamental kind, an unblinking look straight into other people’s lives. There is a heart and beauty to the film that elevate it above tragedy to become a triumph, at least of human spirit. The Monks lead the people in a resounding prayer to be: “free from poverty, free from fear, free from distress and to have peace in our hearts!” These same citizens only weeks earlier were afraid to grumble in the back of a taxi lest the wrong person be listening. Now they line rooftops and streets in their thousands as they unite for change. And dare to hope.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democratic leader voted in by the Burmese people in 1988, has now been under house arrest for more than five thousand days. To even speak her name in 2009 is to risk everything. Burma VJ shows us a few extraordinary days when holy men crossed roadblocks to walk to her door. In Burma today her name is synonymous with a wish for a better tomorrow. “˜Joshua’ intends to return to his country and to his work because he shares in that wish. Perhaps, if we pay closer attention this time, it may one day come true.
Burma VJ opens on Friday 17th July in the UK