Saturday, April 4, 2009


This will be only a head-start on recounting the day's films, since I need to do a better job of resting up for tomorrow than I did last night--but here's a start.

"Burma VJ--Reporting From a Closed Country" is a remarkable piece of documentary filmmaking. For 40 years in Burma, the government (referred to in the film as "the generals") have brutally repressed all opposition. Before 2007, the last wide-scale protests, following opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's election in 1988 when the generals placed her under house arrest, where she remains, ended with the state police firing on the unarmed protesters, leaving 3000 dead. When Buddhist monks began to march against the regime in September 2007, a coalition of brave journalists called the Democratic Voice of Burma (the DVB) used small digital camcorders to document the events for media outlets outside of Burma, risking their lives in the process. Had they not managed to smuggle out the tapes and send footage over the internet, the generals would have succeeded in insulating the protests and the government's brutal response from outside scrutiny. This film captures the events of that fall as they unfolded, working from the perspective of a reporter who was temporarily exiled in Thailand at the start of the protests after being caught and interrogated by secret police. From my visit to Thailand and Burma in 2005, I learned that most young men spend a period of time in a monastery, even if they don't stay more than a few months--and, as depicted here, the monks are mostly young men who unified in sparking the protests. The remarkable footage documents how quickly the people, silent for 19 years, responded in unison, lining the streets by the tens of thousands and answering the monks' simple pleas for a better life for the Burmese people with shouts of "Our cause! Our cause!" The tense days that followed, with a ban on gatherings of more than five people, a government-imposed curfew, police raids of the monasteries, where they beat the monks and took them away, and finally the police firing on the peaceful protesters, are heart-breaking to watch--and given that the military police are themselves young men in this desperately poor country, one wonders what these actions do to their souls. The least we in the rest of the world can do is bear witness to the struggle of the Burmese against this brutal regime. I hope this film, which has won several European film awards and also a documentary film editing award at Sundance, will get a theatrical release. In the meantime, you can view a clip at (10)

"Between Dreams" was my other favorite film of the day. It is a perfect little short filmed on a Trans-Siberian train trip. As I learned in the Q&A with the director afterwards, the filmmakers conceived, shot, and scored the film in the 26 days it took to make the journey, filming the sleeping passengers in a third-class sleeping car with voiceover of different passengers describing their dreams. The train ride becomes a metaphor for the dream state, as the simple, haunting music and beautiful cinematography of people at their most innocent and vulnerable lulls and haunts you. I don't know how easy it is to find shorts like this, but this gem is worth looking for. (10)

More tomorrow on "Carmen Meets Borat" (about people in the village that unwittingly posed as Kazakstan in Sasha Baron Cohen's famed film), "The Queen and I" (about the exiled former queen of Iran), "Say My Name" (about female hip-hop artists) and, with any luck, three more films!

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