“Burma VJ” (VJ standing for “video journalist”) is one of the most important documentary films to be produced in a number of years. Not simply
because of its filmmaking quality in telling a riveting story about the
“Saffron Revolution” which took place in Burma in 2007, but in *how* that
story was told through the use of citizen-based, grassroots media networks.
Ever since I first saw the film upon its initial release a year ago, I knew
it was a potential game-changer in the world of media and its relationship
to movements for political change. I was fortunate to get a chance to see
this film upon its initial release, when my friends filmmakers Steve Bognar
and Julia Reichert were lent a copy by one of their colleagues. Steve
called me up to tell me about this amazing new film which he had just seen,
and invited me over to watch it. Knowing of my ongoing work in media and
human rights, Steve thought I really should see it.
I was deeply moved by the film, again not only for the drama inherent
within the story itself, but what it represented as a harbinger of the
inherent power and potential in the future progress of community-based,
grassroots media networks as as the most important tool available to
confront the cruelty and injustice in our world. It brought to the fore
Gandhi’s principle that the key to confronting injustice was to make it
It also struck a personal note with me, as I myself was in the same town in
Thailand where the main figure in the movie was based during the time the
events portrayed in the film were exploding forth. When I was there I
couldn’t help but be immersed in the goings ons just over the border. It
was a major concern amongst a number of the Buddhist monks that I would
talk with at the time, and no one was sure what was going to happen, since
nothing quite like this had ever happened before in Burma during the
decades of oppressive rule by the military junta in charge. The monks had
taken to the streets in mass organized protests against the legitimacy of
the government, and the government had resorted to actually shooting them.
And here it was all documented by courageous videographers risking their
very lives to show the world what was going on.
Thus began our interest in bringing the film to Dayton. At first Steve and
I thought it was something that could be presented at the University of
Dayton as part of their groundbreaking Human Rights Studies program. It
certainly would serve as a direct example of my interest in seeing
communication studies incorporated directly into human rights work.
Though the timing for a UD screening wasn’t able to pan out, we are all
more than fortunate to be able to present it at the FilmDayton Festival
this year. And not only that, as the lattice of coincidence would have it,
Steve and Julia ended up meeting and befriending the film’s producer from
Denmark, Lise Lense-Møller at this year’s Academy Awards, in which both
were nominees in their respective documentary categories! And not only
that, but Lise’s husband is from Ohio, and used to be a truck driver, who
would do deliveries to the former GM plant in Moraine about which whose
closing Steve and Julia’s film was nominated for an Oscar as well!
So, along with the Indian film “Kavi” showing at 12:30pm at Gilly’s on
Saturday, followed by Steve and Julia’s “The Last Truck,” and then with
“Burma VJ” running at 5pm at the Neon Movies, Dayton’s humble little film
festival will have THREE Academy Award-nominated films screening on the
same afternoon in the same festival.
For more on Burma VJ, here’s a good article from The New York Times…
“Democracy Now!” did a story this award winning film, which really gives
good insight into what the film is about, and the extraordinary risks
citizen journalists take to get information out of the country.