Burma VJ, which focuses on the 2007 protests by Buddhist monks against the Burmese authorities, is a documentary for the YouTube generation. The VJ in the title stands for "video journalists". The advancement of cheap digital camera technology and the internet have changed the way these kinds of events are reported. Increasingly, documentary filmmakers are using amateur footage loaded on to the internet to overcome official bans on journalists and provide a record of events that governments do not want aired. This is the next level of cinema vérité (Hana Makhmabaf sources similar amateur footage in her film about the Iranian election, Green Days). The danger of this approach for audiences is that the often harrowing footage shot at the scene seems so urgent and authentic that it's easy to forget that a documentary film is still ultimately edited by a director. It can still be manipulated to tell a story that, although on the surface seems indisputable, can be skewed. It's worth bearing this in mind because, even when they try to be impartial, directors often have some sort of an agenda. The Danish director Anders Østergaard has expertly gathered this predominantly out-of-focus footage of the protests and paired it with narration by a pro-democracy activist known only as Joshua (his identity is hidden for his own protection). It's powerful stuff. The story of the uprising is well told and seems balanced. It's also an important film in terms of cinema as it illustrates a major shift in the way documentaries are made.
Burma VJ screens tonight at 10pm and Thursday at 4pm at Cinestar 3, Marina Mall.