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To create that sense of realism, tension and excitement even, the fad nowadays is for filmmakers to employ the use of the nausea-inducing shaky cam. For the multiple, independent video journalists in Burma documenting instances of oppression and suppression, crying for the attention of the outside world, it's not a technique used for vanity or stylistic reasons, but one stemming from sheer necessity. One can imagine if one is caught with a video camera recording street arrests and such, where the penalty would likely be endless interrogation, to put it mildly, and probably being conveniently forgotten.
"Joshua" and his crew from DVB – Democratic Voice of Burma – a group of clandestine journalists operating from within Burma, had plenty of footage that they manage to smuggle out of the country, either through online means, or trusted couriers, where news networks had used to tell of the plight of street protesters in September 2007. Utilizing small consumer cameras hidden in bags and whisked in and out for clips lasting seconds, you can feel that real sense of danger that these folks go through just to get actual ground conditions to the outside world.
Director Anders Østergaard had assembled various clips from that fateful event where the monks took to the streets, which for days an unexpected non-response from the military government provided that spark of optimism that change was coming. For those familiar with the aftermath from that affair, watching this on hindsight made one feel a little saddened even, because we know what would be coming up next. With some moments re- enacted and spliced together with actual footages, Burma VJ became a riveting documentary where the draw is having to become a witness to what's happening on the ground being in stark contrast to official state media's interpretation, and perhaps to think about how an event as this one shouldn't be allowed to just fade away.
And the footages are nothing short of amazing, astounding, and shocking even. There was a progression of sorts technically, probably stemming from collective courage of the masses where temporal point-and-shoot strategies gave way to lengthy unflinching recordings. From the journalists' first hand accounts as seen through their viewfinders, we take to the streets with them in a "people power" movement, even going right up to the villa where Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest, appearing to greet the monks. We also get a sense of how the military's strength in numbers were called upon to cordon off areas and provided a standoff with their weapons locked and loaded, and executions at point blank were all caught on camera, from grainy digital zooming of lens watching from afar.
In some ways, the film progressed as per how the movement gained momentum, in a slow brew of relatively smaller demonstrations to a frenetic charge toward large masses, before night time raids and arrests of the protesting monks led to a systematic fizzling of drive and ultimate dispersal, and the flight for cover, as the DVB journalists had to lay low following crackdown by the secret police. For the superstitious as the military junta is touted to be, there's a quick mention of Typhoon Nargis too, which I recall when it struck had many tongues wagging that it was a celestial response to what was done to the monks, here in a scene that I've never seen, a lifeless body floating on a river with a cracked skull.
Burma VJ is a powerful documentary, and I do urge anyone who has the chance to watch this, to give it a go.
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