Making a movie, anywhere, anytime, is a tough enterprise. Doing it the middle of a civil insurrection, in which the cameramen and women are hiding their lens underneath jackets and in backpacks, unzipping to shoot and zipping up when hard stares or shouted warnings arrive, filming while running, filming through peep-holes in make-shift shelters, smuggling the data disks out via you-hope-are-trusted messengers, make it a nearly impossible task. The “directors,” or editors are in a distant country — Norway– some with emotional connections to the homeland, others with skills and access to modern movie-making technology. And most importantly, the finished product, is not simply a recounting of events, though all the footage is documentary in nature. It is a presentation of reality being denied by those in power; it is a call for help. Propaganda of a kind, but of the truth not of the lie:
Burma VJ, filmed by undercover Video Journalists, is a powerful testimony to the courage of the journalists, the people they were filming, the Buddhist monks who were the visible heart of the uprising, and the students who kept it up after the monks fled, were captured or killed.
It’s seldom that a documentary grips the viewer in the heart of fear and admiration the way this one does. For a look at nonviolent resistance in action, Buddhism at its best, the way unfocused anger gets focused, and even how on-site raw footage gets converted not only into a movie but to international news, you couldn’t spend a better couple of hours.
This is the real thing. When the camera is bouncing around and out of focus you know it is not pretend. It is not a faux-documentary, imitating fear and flight. It is fear and flight, determination and urgency caught in the very act, and sent on to us, to tell us: this is happening, now.
What a wonder Burma had begun to become since the 2011-2012 reforms got underway. There are miles to go, and years to make up for. As recent news of rioting and inter-communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims, citizens and immigrants are starkly telling us, nothing is certain. But to sense the winds of change and see the beginnings in Burma VJ is an experience not to be missed.