Monday 27 April 2009

Burma VJ: Reporting From A Closed Country

With a few screeners in hand, I'll be trying to get in some early reviews of films playing at this year's Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto (April 30 - May 10).

The term "fascist" gets bandied about a lot in North America. In the political arena, it's seems to be typically used by people to describe anyone who simply opposes or disagrees with them. It's a fascinating term though, since it can be used equally wrong by both the far left and right sides of the political spectrum. A much more appropriate usage of the word, however, would be in regards to the government of Burma.

"Burma VJ" is a mix of actual footage smuggled out of the country plus some recreated scenes that help to connect everything into the story of a recent public uprising. In the Summer of 2007, the authoritarian government of Burma (under military rule since a coup in 1962) decided to remove fuel subsidies which led in some cases to huge increases in prices. Due to the ripple effect this caused (transportation prices throughout the country rose), the public was feeling restless and were reaching their limit - however, few dared to rebel because of the government's stance against any form of dissent (ie. immediate jail time, etc.). This time, however, the monks helped lead the protests - and that's a message that frightens the government.

Through the surreptitious videos taken (the cameramen are all members of the Democratic Voice of Burma - led remotely in the film by "Joshua"), we follow the initial sparks of dissent to the vast monk-led marches to the initial blockades and to the eventual quelling of protest. A dead foreign photo-journalist (shot at point blank range) and numerous captured and beaten monks (including at least one dead, floating body) will tend to take the wind out of the public's sails...Much of the footage taken during these events however made it to the airwaves in the rest of the world through the efforts of the DVB.

I'd like to go on a bit more at length about the effectiveness of the film, mention some of its key turning points, point out that the leader of the government opposition party has been under house arrest for near 20 years or perhaps discuss how the mixture of recreated moments ("Joshua" in Thailand working on his computer and on the phone) meshed with the grainy jumpy video from Burma, but the film is apparently under embargo and only short reviews are currently allowed.

I'm not quite sure what that means, but what I do know is that the next time someone uses the term "fascist" in an improper context, I'll make sure I remind them of a few examples of true fascism.

Here's the trailer:

"Burma VJ: Reporting From A Closed Country" screens:

  • Monday May 4th at 6:30PM (Bloor Cinema)
  • Wednesday May 6th 1:45PM (Isabel Bader Theatre)
  • Sunday May 10th 7:15PM (The ROM Theatre)


Fox said...

Great post Bob-

One of my pet-peeves is when people toss around the word fascist. As you said, it's not unique to either the left or right. Knuckleheads on both side abuse that word. When Bush was president you heard crazy lefties use it, and now that Obama is in office, nutty righties are using it just the same.

It's such a quick dismissive kill-the-argument term like "racist" is. It's a word of last resort when you have no intelligent commentary to offer. It clears the room when things get too difficult.

Bob Turnbull said...

Yep, and it waters down those terms when people throw them out too easily. Sometimes they do actually apply, but if you've called everybody and their dog a fascist (or racist) it doesn't really mean much when you add one more to the list.

Of course, that's not to say that there aren't several North American leaders that might not want to be the leader of a military junta, but they still haven't come close.

James McNally said...

Nice way to get around the "fascist" embargo, Bob! ;)

I am kidding, friendly publicists!