Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Burma VJ

I saw one of the documentaries that is in this year's Hot Docs Festival in Toronto, it was called Burma VJ (VJ=video journalist). This was narrated by a Burmese man, a journalist in hiding. During the uprising in September 2007 he was responsible for a network of Burmese video journalists who took live footage of events and smuggled it out to the international media. The narrator survived because he had had to flee to Thailand before the uprising, but many of his colleagues were hunted down and killed for their work. He lost all his friends and colleagues; the few that survived are now in hiding and he can't reach them.

It's a harrowing film, at once frightening and moving. The Burmese who participated in that uprising were extremely brave. For a few days the people were excited and hopeful that things might change, but it ended badly. The scenes of the uprising were amazing, tens of thousands of Burmese marching in the streets, sitting down and praying in front of armed soldiers at the command of the monks.

The monks were amazing too. This is a very devout country, where monks are highly respected. They generally avoid getting involved politically, but this time they did, for the people who were suffering. They marched in the hundreds with their begging bowls turned upside down above their heads. This meant that they were refusing alms, particularly from the government. For the monks to show this kind of disapproval is a Very Big Deal.

For soldiers to shoot at monks, and then later round them up, take them away and torture and kill them, was also a Very Big Deal. Those soldiers have very bad karma to deal with now. The narrator hoped that the soldiers would come over to the people, but he felt sorry for them when they didn't. He said they knew better than anyone else how cruel the Generals are and he understood their fear to refuse orders.

There was one scene where one of the VJs was running with some students to escape the soldiers. They ran into a dead-end with no way out and the soldiers right on their heels, and ran up a stairwell in a house, in the dark. The soldiers came in and started shooting, up the stairwell. You could hear the students whispering and the soldiers shooting at them from only a few feet away, but the screen was dark because the journalist had his camera hidden. It was awful.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in a place like that. The pall of daily fear was palpable.


Barbara Anne said...

How very sad. I cannot imagine it either.

I heard a theologian say that the earth's bane was the greedy, whether they were greedy for money, power, station in life, or whatever, they are bad for all people and for the planet.

A lapel button I saw years ago: The world can no longer afford the rich.


Zabetha said...

Hi Barbara, I felt particularly sorry for the narrator, losing all of his friends and co-workers that way while he sat in relative comfort but complete helplessness in a neighbouring country.

I don't think I could attend very many films in this documentary film festival, too many terrible stories.

June Calender said...

So many places in the world where people are not free -- we in the West rarely notice the suffering that is beyond anything we experience. Thanks for bringing this incident to our attention -- perhaps we can't help the sufferers, but we can KNOW and not be complacent. We can bear witness as you are doing -- it is important that those who endure such political tyrany are not forgotten.

Zabetha said...

Thanks for your comment June, it touched me. I feel powerless sometimes in the face of such knowledge, and you're right, by witnessing we do contribute in a small way.