Film: Burma VJ

Danish director Anders Østergaard’s Burmese footage makes this documentary move as fast as an action film.


It’s the rare documentary that thrills like an action flick, but Burma VJ had me cheering for fearless Burmese citizen journalists like they were Jason Bourne. Danish director Anders Østergaard constructs his adrenaline-charged film out of footage shot by ordinary folks who risk arrest and even death to clandestinely document the brutality of the Burmese junta. Its hero is “Joshua,” a 27-year-old amateur field producer for the underground video news organization Democratic Voice of Burma. After more than 45 years of military rule, foreigners often know more about Burmese news than Burmese themselves, since state-controlled media censor the news and carrying a camcorder is illegal. Through Joshua and his colleagues’ lenses, we quickly see why. In September 2007, Buddhist monks take to the streets, only to be attacked by plainclothes security agents and police. One undercover journalist films the body of a beaten monk floating in a swamp.

Østergaard weaves in news reports, interviews, and historical images, but much of the film is visceral real-time footage. In one scene, the frame shudders as the cameraman races toward the sound of gunshots, and the screen blurs as he spots the police and hides the camera. All the jostling makes for a rough ride, but it’s also what makes Burma VJ so captivating.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.