Review: Burma VJ

If you haven’t heard about Burma VJ yet – start now! This new documentary film has been gaining increasing recognition at film festivals, in newspapers, and in word on the street.

Composed of hours of footage from small handycams captured by young guerilla journalists in Burma, the documentary offers one of the few close looks inside the totalitarian state of a military junta that’s not exactly the poster child for the freedom of the press. The identity of these reporters is undisclosed, for the security of their lives outside of bars, but we follow “Joshua”, one of the leaders of young journalists as his hopes and concerns are conveyed through the piecemeal footage edited together by film director Anders Ostergaard. Though the journalists started filming in August of 2007, the groups’ activities took on critical importance as their pocket cameras began capturing shaky shots of the protests and events surrounding the September 2007 “Saffron Revolution,” when the political discontent boiled over with monks marching in the streets and foreign journalists expelled from the country.
First released in May of 2009, the Burma VJ film has since seen limited release in major cities in the United States and Europe and has garnered several awards at film festivals, from the “World Cinema Documentary Editing Award” at Sundance Film Festival to the “Movies That Matter Award” from the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival. From reviews in major newspapers to Twitter streams, it has started to gain broader attention and stimulate discussion about a brutal situation that can often fall out of the horizon of the news and popular concerns.
The beauty of the film’s approach is that the footage and narrative has been generated by the citizens of Burma themselves, allowing even those who have never been to Southeast Asia or read about Burma to begin to understand the situations in which they live from the perspective that citizens experience it – their fears, hopes, sights, and sounds. Not only does this have the potential to impact those in countries much further away, but we might hope that it could even influence the perspective of that Thai people in our community here that negatively view those fleeing from the repression of the brutal regime without awareness of the situation they are coming from.
Though it’s not available for sale as a DVD yet, we here at Freedom House will be eagerly awaiting its release, and we hope you’ll look out for it as well, and look for opportunities to share it with others, through a showing at your university, gathering with friends, event with your religious organization – seeking ways to continue the conversation and deepen understanding across borders.
You can visit their official website at, and sign up for notification of the film release on Amazon (

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