Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country, and Risking Their Lives Doing It


How we view the relationship between traditional and new media should forever be changed by Danish filmmaker Anders Østergaard’s terrific documentary about a loosely organized network of scrappy underground videographers who risked their lives photographing the abortive 2007 uprising against Myanmar’s military dictatorship. Spooked by memories of a similar rebellion in 1988, the government shut down the Internet and local media, and banned foreign journalists from covering the demonstrations, which were led by Buddhist monks and students with growing support from an emboldened public. Burma VJ takes us on a roller coaster of alternating hope and despair as the young guerrilla reporters, always on the lookout for ubiquitous informers, wade into the thick of the struggle with Handycams hidden in bags, then transmit the footage to a hidden colleague, who smuggles it out of the country via satellite. The raw, shocking images of courage and brutal backlash, here enhanced by added voiceover from two anguished young cameramen, were then broadcast, uncanned and unpolished, by the mainstream media. There was no happy ending, but if Burma VJ‘s account of the efficacy of dictatorship threatens to crush you, the sight of a sturdy young back disappearing into the mountains, returning from a Thailand hideout for another round of bearing witness, should make your heart burst.