Review: Burma VJ

by Claire Owens

I don’t know about you, but what I love the most about watching documentaries is the incredibly realistic images broadcast across the screen. In Burma VJ, the documentary footage is absolutely incredible, but is overshadowed by the staged images put in place to advance the narrative.

 Burma VJ was secretly filmed by a group of people documenting the riots based around the Saffron Revolution happening in Burma during 2007. They used cameras that were easy to hide in hopes that they would not be caught, imprisoned, or killed. They manage to capture astounding images of how the people of Burma were living and treated during the Revolution. All the footage was smuggled overseas and shown on worldwide news channels with the intention that people would find out what was going on in Burma, and maybe do something to help.

As I already mentioned, I think that the powerful footage was negatively counteracted by the ‘inserted’ images used throughout the film. Perhaps it was only me, but I found it quite obvious when what I was seeing on screen was not an original image. This is probably because their original footage was incredibly shaky do to circumstances in which they were capturing the images. The majority of the documentary featured Monks, who were initially introduced to the audience through a shot of them marching down a street in a line. This initial image was staged, and for some reason that took away from the images of the Monks that were to follow.

I’m not saying the images used in Burma VJ were not impactful because of this — they absolutely were. My only argument is that for me personally, it took away from the realness of the documentary.

On a side note, for the majority of the film I couldn’t help but appreciate that fact that I live in a place where something like this doesn’t happen. The Saffron Revolution was at its peak only 6 years ago, which to me is a very scary thought.

I think the staged scenes got to me because they were juxtaposed to such powerful images. Try to look past the add-ins when watching the documentary, because it is definitely one that needs to be seen.