Festival opener focuses on work of Burma’s underground video journalists

Burma VJ

The One World festival was launched in Prague on Wednesday night with a powerful documentary called Burma VJ, highlighting the work of brave journalists who secretly film human rights abuses in the country. With foreign media banned, theirs was the only footage of the turmoil in Burma during the huge protests of 2007 that became known as the Saffron Revolution.

Burma VJ is largely composed of footage secretly recorded by the VJs – video journalists – of the Democratic Voice of Burma. With all foreign media banned, they worked fearlessly to document the events leading up to and during what became known as the Saffron Revolution, when, led by Buddhist monks, over 100,000 people protested against Burma’s hard-line military regime in autumn 2007. The film they shot was seen around the globe, after being smuggled out or sent via the internet to the offices of this man, Khin Maung Win.

Burmese monk prays during the opening ceremony of One World 09, photo: CTK
“My organisation, the Democratic Voice of Burma, is a radio and television station based in Norway, broadcasting towards Burma in the Burmese language. Around 20 million Burmese people in the country are relying on our broadcasts to get real news and information about their own country. So we are considered as a kind of national media in exile.”

The fast-paced and intense Burma VJ was made by Danish director Anders Ostergaard using footage recorded on pocket-sized video cameras and originally intended for day-to-day news purposes.

“Our journalists did not intend their filming for this documentary film. They were just doing their routine, their professional work – that is capturing the images of the Saffron Revolution, the repression on the part of the military regime. Later on the film director had the idea that it would be very good to use this footage and compose this documentary. So that’s a decision by the director. Now there is a documentary about us that will create more awareness of Burmese issues, as well as our operation. That’s a big step, I think.”

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s screening, Khin Maung Win said he hoped the film would inspire viewers to take a greater interest in his country, which has been a dictatorship since the early 1960s.

“The audience, we hope, will know more about Burma and the conditions in Burma. And I just want to repeat a very famous saying by Aung San Suu Kyi, our democracy icon who has long been under house arrest. What she says is, use your freedom to promote ours. That’s the message I would like to send out to the audience, use your freedom. There is at least something you can do to help Burmese people.”

The Democratic Voice of Burma’s Khin Maung Win is a member of the jury in the Right to Know section at the One World film festival.