Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Front Row Seat to Revolution

Fragmented social media tools and delayed reports from traditional media have allowed me to stay only intermittently aware of the struggle for democracy in the streets of Tehran. Never having been involved in a violent, passionate uprising against my government, it is strange how well I now understand the action on the ground. I attribute this to two unlikely sources, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and Danish filmmaker Anders Ostergaard.

The DVB, aka the Burma VJs, are a band of Burmese reporters who operate clandestinely inside the military dictatorship of Myanmar. In 2007, these brave Burmese reporters captured a massive rebellion, the “Saffron Revolution,” on handheld camcorders in the streets. Over 100,000 protesters were led by Buddhist monks, who broke a self-imposed silence in order to speak out against the 40-year-running repressive Myanmar regime. During the rebellion, the internet was shut down and foreign reporters were banned from the country. Fortunately for its fellow citizens and the world at large, the DVB risked life and limb to record the brutal clashes with the military and undercover police and soon became targets themselves. After shooting footage on the streets, the DVB systematically smuggled it out of the county to be broadcast worldwide via satellite.

Now enter Anders Ostergaard, a Danish filmmaker who was planning to make a 30-minute documentary portrait of one of the DVBs, Joshua (his pseudonym). As the revolution erupted, “Burma VJ" was born. Ostergaard has formed the scintillating raw material shot by the DVB into a taught, real-life thriller. Some scenes needed to be reenacted in order to connect the dots in the film, causing a bit of controversy amongst documentary purists, but Ostergaard insists the recreations are exact to what transpired and were necessary to construct the film. The editing project entailed to construct “Burma VJ” was massive; the proof of its success ample. The film has won numerous awards at film festivals around the world.

View the “Burma VJ” Trailer

After first seeing “Burma VJ” at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, I was reminded of what Francis Ford Coppola said near the end of the remarkable documentary on the making of “Apocalypse Now,” “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” ‘To me the great hope is that now these little 8mm video records and stuff that are coming out, just some, people that normally wouldn't make movies are going to be making them and, you know, suddenly one day some fat girl in Ohio is going to be the next Mozart and make a beautiful film…’

Coppola goes on to ramble about professionalism and art, but the illustrative point is that having technology in everyone’s hands expands the playing field for moviemaking and filmmaking. Few times will it lead to art as skillful and informative as “Burma VJ,” but it always has the potential to bring the world closer together.

Now Tibet and other movements around the world are looking at the DVB and “Burma VJ” to see how they can also use the tools of technology to communicate with the world and their people about their struggles.

If only the people in the streets of Tehran had been able to see this film and learn from the DVB before their uprising, perhaps the military crackdown on the protest would have been so successful.

You can see the Milwaukee Premiere of “Burma VJ” at the 2009 Milwaukee Film Festival, September 24 – October 24, 2009.

For a limited time Ticket Packages and Passes are on sale at their cheapest prices, so buy now and save a bundle at www.milwaukee-film.org