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Film review: 'Burma VJ' shines light on bravery

Published: Friday, Aug. 7 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

A scene from "Burma VJ"

Oscilloscope Pictures

BURMA VJ —★★★ — Documentary feature about clandestine Burmese journalists; with English subtitles (Burmese dialects); not rated, probable PG-13 (violence, brief gore, profanity, slurs); Tower Theatre

The second part of the title of "Burma VJ" is "reporting from a closed country," which only tells you part of the story.

Journalistic endeavors in Burma have been illegal for decades, though videographers and photographers still brave years of imprisonment, torture or even worse things by recording the actions of the citizenry and of the Burmese military junta, which has ruled that tiny Asian country for at least 20 years.

Watching these brave amateurs is pretty compelling, which is a good thing. There are things about this documentary — which features a couple of "re-enactment" scenes — that are both dubious and problematic.

Wisely, Danish documentarian Anders Ostergaard focuses of one member of the journalists, a man who's referred to simply as "Joshua."

He and other members of "The Democratic Voice of Burma" shoot their footage and photos with hidden cameras. That material is then smuggled out of the country, where it is either broadcast or it is passed along to various news services.

"Burma VJ" finds Joshua and the others in the midst of 2007 demonstrations and a peace walk by thousands of Buddhist monks. They're protesting the beatings of some of their fellow monks.

Joshua and the others are also there to witness the monks' meeting with imprisoned rebel leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

It's not necessary for Ostergaard to replicate scenes for the movie. The footage of other events pretty much say all that needs to be said.

And Joshua is a compelling figure. The best thing this film does is shine a light on his and others' efforts.

"Burma VJ" is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for some disturbing violent content (footage of riot suppression, including beatings and shootings), some brief gory imagery, scattered strong profanity, and derogatory language and slurs (mostly based on nationality). Running time: 85 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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