2009 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

Eye-opening documentary following the covert network of ‘video journalists' (VJs) who risked life and freedom to bring Burma's September 2007 pro-democracy uprising to international attention. Combining hard-hitting reportage with subtle reconstruction, Danish filmmaker Anders Østergaard provides an irrefutable indictment of the ruling military regime while paying tribute to the ordinary citizens whose courage and commitment never wavers in the face of constant oppression.

Director

  • Anders Østergaard

Cast

  • Documentary

Review

According to the organisation Reporters Without Borders, Burma is the fourth-least press-friendly country in the world. Only journalists in Eritrea , North Korea and Turkmenistan have it worse.

Under military control since the early sixties, the Burmese government's already cavalier attitude to human rights wasn't improved when a different regime seized power in 1988.

But don't go thinking that the current mob doesn't have a sense of humour just because they torture anyone who gives them bad press, rejected the unfavourable result of the 1990 election, and consequently bunged opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years.

No, because in 1997 they changed their name to the 'State Peace and Development Council'.

The SPDC keep the peace by shooting unarmed protesters and develop the country by controlling all broadcast media and restricting internet access to the point that there in't one (penetration is 0.6% and Yahoo, Hotmail and the BBC are all banned).

So heaven help anyone wanting to tell the outside world how it really is. But, as becomes apparent from this hugely commendable film, where there's a will, there's a way.

Director Østergaard tells the story of the 2007 demonstrations led by Burma's Buddhist monks mainly through footage taken by the reporters who braved the heavily policed streets of Rangoon armed only with handycams.

They are coordinated by 'Joshua', an idealistic yet pragmatic activist who smuggles video evidence out of the country via satellite links and guerrilla media channel, the Democratic Voice of Burma. To protect Joshua's real identity, Østergaard recreates his account of events artificially.

This doesn't taint the film's veracity, since the reportage of the escalating conflict between peaceful protesters and gun-toting, teargas-firing troops (supplemented by untrained government 'thugs') speaks for itself.

It's attention-grabbing and often harrowing stuff. Østergaard, however, seems reluctant to present the Burmese authorities as utter villains. Perhaps he thought Stallone did that well enough with his last hurrah as Rambo.

Since we're dealing with fair representations, it's fair that Joshua should express a degree of sympathy for the lower-ranking uniforms as they're simply following orders to make ends meet.

But little is made of the government's pathetic response to the devastation wreaked on poverty-stricken areas by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. And more of Burma 's recent history would put the events in a clearer context.

Not particularly well-rounded then, but any film that gives voice to the oppressed while raising global awareness has got to be a good thing.