705 Great Summer Viewing: Filmmakers Risk Their Lives to Document Buddhist Courage in “Burma VJ”

Our overall June series is called “Great Summer Reading.” We’ve already featured three books: “Crown of Aleppo,” “Science Vs. Religion” and “Belief.” Then this week, Tuesday through Friday, we’ll tell you about four more terrific new books. But ReadTheSpirit explores the whole range of media, searching for unusual and important gems. Today, we’re highly recommending a new-to-DVD documentary that is essential viewing for anyone concerned about grassroots peacemaking, powerful new-media tools and the awe-inspiring courage that religious convictions can fuel in ordinary men and women.

We’ve all seen far too much TV footage of homicidal suicide bombers—religious fervor fueling the destruction of innocent lives. In “Burma VJ,” we see ordinary men and women courageously risking and sometimes sacrificing their own lives on behalf of peace.

One wonders: Why do these people do it? Their chance of peacefully toppling the ruthless military government of Burma/Myanmar is slim. In fact, as you know before you even watch this film, the protesters did not succeed in the 2007 movement. So, why even atempt this challenge? The question is answered by one of the young filmmakers in “Burma VJ” who dares to shoot footage of Buddhist monks attacked by thugs from the military dictatorship. Why do these monks inspire this young man? He answers: “They are acting out of their knowledge of history. They are not acting out of anger.”

Stunning. Their faith is unshakeable in its assumption that goodness will prevail. If not 20 years ago in the last major protests, if not in the 2007 protests—then in the next wave they are organizing secretly even as you read this review. And we’re not talking about mere risks. Toward the end of the film, your heart will break in a scene that was carried by news networks around the world: a beaten monk’s body drifting away in a river.

Wait!!” you may be saying. Why allow ourselves to be visually assaulted by scenes of violence? Why not just turn away? Can such a documentary accomplish any good?

The young journalists of Burma say: Watch. Please, watch. After decades of severe repression, poverty and the constant threat of random arrest, torture, imprisonment and even death—for the people of Burma to peacefully protest against their military government takes incredible courage. We learn that two decades ago, the last time large-scale protests were launched, the effort ended when 3,000 innocents were gunned down in the streets. You’ll learn about what happened to the 2007 protests in this film.

For a talented young man or young woman to take a small video camera and become an illegal Video Journalist, a “VJ,” takes almost a crazy kind of faith and courage. For these young people to film police brutality against monks, for example, could be a ticket to torture and death. But, inspired by their Buddhist practice, dozens of VJs captured shocking scenes during street protests in 2007. Over and over again, they voice the one question that haunts their sleepless nights: Will anyone care? If we risk our lives to smuggle this footage out of Burma, will anyone watch? Fortunately, the VJs found a valuable friend in Scandinavian filmmaker Anders Østergaard, who finally pulled this documentary together for them.

Let me assure viewers: The vast majority of this film is deeply inspiring and not at all violent. We follow these daring young VJs from their first inklings that “something will happen soon” to a few individual acts of protest. Mostly, these initial brave acts are men and women who simply hold up signs or shout slogans on busy city streets. Almost immediately they are swarmed by ever-present plain-clothes thugs and tossed like sacks of potatoes into steel-barred paddy wagons.

Finally, the monks take to the streets in the thousands in their crimson robes. If you’ve got a pulse in your body, you’ll sit up in wonderment as these resolute monks begin their marches. We’re not seeing actors reconstruct these events. We’re seeing everyone involved—from the VJs to the monks to the fellow marchers—as they take their first brave steps.

You’ve never seen protests like these! Their chants? They’re not angry. They’re not calling for “Revolution.” Their chants are for “Reconciliation!” And their litany goes like this:
Monks: “Reconciliation!”
Crowd: “Our cause! Our cause!”
“May all beings of the universe be free!”
“Our cause! Our cause!”
“Free from fear!”
“Our cause! Our cause!”
“Free from all distress!”
“Our cause! Our cause!”
“May they have peace in their hearts!”
“Our cause! Our cause!”

And when it looks like military forces may attack? The call changes to “Those who are not afraid to die, come to the front!” And people actually move up.

And when some do become afraid? The call changes to “Let’s pray to overcome the fear of death!” People pray—and continue to move up. Make no mistake. The bullets do come, just as everyone involved in this movement knew they would.

Is this depressing? Does this crush the spirits of the young people involved? No. One of the young VJs gasps, “Now, everything is possible.”

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. You have to see it to believe what I’m describing. Please, do so. Talk about it with friends. Perhaps use the film in a small group. You’ll have no shortage of discussion—guaranteed.

You can order “Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country” from Amazon now.  

We welcome your Emails! Email [email protected]. We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Huffington Post, YouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed. Plus, there’s a free Monday-morning “Planner” newsletter you may enjoy.

(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email