The camera work in the new documentary “Burma VJ” is shaky and an utterly unprofessional.
The film’s narrator speaks in fractured English, and anyone who knows even a little about modern day Burma understands the documentary can’t have a happy ending.
None of that matters while watching “Burma VJ,” a chilling look at one of the world’s most oppressive countries.
The documentary, now playing in limited locations, recalls a series of political protests in 2007 against the military dictatorship behind the impoverished Asian country.
It’s hard to fathom people living in a place that does not allow for freedom of assembly, let alone freedom of speech or expression. But the simple act of taking a video camera out of your pocket in Burma and turning it on can be cause for arrest – or much worse depending on what you capture on video.
Even gathering more than five people together at one time is enough to send government officials knocking on your door.
The film is told via Joshua, a Burmese native in charge of getting video footage of his homeland out of the country. Doing so requires luck, pinpoint timing and the cooperation of people who understand shooting video can put their lives in danger.
In 1988 Burmese soldiers killed roughly 3,000 protestors. But nearly 20 years later enough citizens screwed up the courage to protest openly again.
Their voices eventually mix with those of Burmese monks, an apolitical group who set aside their policies to help their fellow citizens.
But Burmese officials refuse to back down, leading to a series of tense confrontations.
“VJ Burma” is cobbled together from smuggled video laced together in impression fashion to form the narrative. The images are grainy at times but utterly powerful, and it seems someone had a camera in hand during some of the more dramatic moments in the country’s recent history.
The sad subtext here is the dreams of Joshua and his associates, that if only the outside world knew what was happening in Burma things would change.
Well, we’ve all been reading about the atrocities in the Sudan for years now, and no one is doing anything of significance about it.
Still, letting the western world know about Burma is a positive step, if not the final one to affect true change.
“Burma VJ” ends without direct hope, but as long as the country’s people hunger for freedom, and a few citizens are brave enough to document the atrocities around them on video, there’s always hope for a better tomorrow.
(Photo: The new film “Burma VJ” features Burmese monks speaking out against the repressive government.Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)