Burma VJ


We’re all aware that we live in a lucky country, we are reminded of the fact every day, that we are free from war and Government tyranny, though occasionally tyranny seems preferable to the endless back-and-forth of Parliament, Utegate and seeing Tony Abbott in his Speedos.

But then a film like Burma VJ comes along, that makes you want to kiss every inch of Australian soil, and smuggle all the people of Burma over here, so that they can experience the lives that they are entitled to.

This Oscar nominated documentary centre’s on a team of journalists working in Burma, where simply reporting on the day to day life in Burma is so dangerous that they risk decades in jail if the military dictatorship tracks them down. The main journalist, known by the pseudonym ‘Joshua’, and his colleagues begin the documentary in mid 2007, when the Burmese military generals abruptly doubled fuel prices throughout the nation, which drove already impoverished people to the edge.
The journalists work for the Democratic Voice of Burma, or DVB, where the only way to air their footage is to smuggle it out of the nation to Norway, sometimes via the Internet and sometimes via trusted couriers, where the images can then be beamed back into Burma and to other news organisations via satellite.

This film focuses on the aftermath of the fuel price hike – where protestors begin to slowly take to the streets.

Joshua is caught at the front line of one of the protests by the military. He is questioned, his equipment taken and then he is released. Joshua makes it clear that he has not been let free, he believes the military are following him to determine if he is working alone or part of a network. To protect his colleagues he flees to Thailand, relying on the Internet and mobile phones to stay in contact with the others on the ground.

The film weaves Joshua’s phone conversations with his colleagues with the footage they have been taken on the ground, as the protests begin to intensify. The most amazing scenes in the documentary begin when the Buddhist monks of Burma begin to join the protest, the shaky hand held footage captures the incredible image of hundreds of monks walking barefoot through the streets of Rangoon, the city where the journalists are based, chanting, and calling for peace.

Joshua speaks of the devout nature of Burma, where the majority of people are practicing Buddhists.
The journalists are right in the heart of the protests, they capture images from the front line, from the heart of the masses and from the sidelines – the quality of the film does not match the typical production values of a Hollywood blockbuster, but is so much more powerful because of that. This is not an impressive effect. This is reality; these are real people, fighting for freedom and for their basic human rights, in a nation where the military violently quashes all opposition.

The monks are awe-inspiring, all with shaved heads and wearing red robes, they lead a chant to be ‘free from fear’, as the masses chant back ‘our cause, our cause’. The journalists, being caught up in the movement, clearly convey the overwhelming sense of hope, that this time they may be able to change, that this time the people of Burma may be free.

While watching this I was deeply ashamed that I had not paid more attention to this news story when it made international headlines back in 2007. It’s one of the most powerful experiences of hope I have had, and all you want to do once the movie has finished is leap on a plane to Burma and overthrow the military generals yourself.

At the screening I attended we were lucky enough to have the Bureau Chief of the DVB, Toe Zaw Latt, there to take questions, and he spoke in more detail about the fate of the journalists who had worked on this documentary – three have been imprisoned, some of them sentenced to more then 30 years in jail for simply reporting the truth of the protests and revealing them to the world.

It’s a situation that is so difficult to imagine –especially  here where freedom of the press is expected, where we rely on newspapers and television reports to let us know what is happening in our country, where journalism is an accepted career choice, that very rarely carries a prison sentence.

The journalists and everyday people in this film deserve freedom, and the right to live a life free from fear – they have shown themselves to be heroes in the truest sense of the word, standing up for what is right at risk to their own lives. During a protest a man calls out ‘Those who are not afraid to die come to the front’, as the soldiers and the sound of bullets creep ever closer. And a mass of people move forward, people who did not look any older then me, who were willing to die at the hands of soldiers in their fight for democracy in their country.

Burma VJ is showing at selected cinemas across the country

For more information please visit





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