Interview: Anders Østergaard

Anders Østergaard

Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country

Danish filmmaker Anders Østergaard’s new documentary Burma VJ tells the story of the violent 2007 protests through smuggled footage. Here he explains how he did it.

‘I wanted to make a film about Burma but I didn’t know how to go about it. I was sceptical about going in with a crew as I knew it would end up being a film about the crew, plus people warned me about the dangers of doing that. So when we realised there were citizens and Burmese reporters inside Burma making secret filmed reports I was doubly intrigued, one because of the footage that might be taken and two because of these secret correspondents’ own stories. Their lives epitomise everything about the Burmese condition and the cruel reality of life inside modern day Burma. So I got in touch with the Democratic Voice of Burma in Oslo and they sent us to meet some Burmese video jockeys or VJs in Bangkok. This was before the uprising in February 2007. And then I met Joshua who had the critical energy, so to speak, to drive the film, because he had his own desire to talk about Burma and to talk about his story. He was so keen to communicate.

‘Joshua was less worried and paranoid than the other VJs. We had a very good understanding from the beginning. On a personal level I identified with what he was trying to do. I mean I have never lived in a repressive regime and I never took risks like he does but I do understand his need to film the world; in some way it reminded me of why I wanted to be a filmmaker. Making films makes you feel more alive; it makes you feel more on Earth somehow, and that almost existential note is what originally attracted me to the project.

‘Empathy is my way of getting into the world of someone else. The idea is to try and imagine what it must be like to be a Burmese VJ. I get frustrated when people consider this journalism. Obviously it’s not journalism; it’s a documentary film about journalism.

‘The reconstructions have a supportive function; they should never take over because then we are going the wrong way. I felt I had the right to make supporting material, which would put this phenomenal footage into context and create a greater understanding for the terrible things that are going on in Burma.’

Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country is at Cameo, Edinburgh on Tue 14 Jul (Saffron Tuesday) with satellite Q&A and Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 17-Thu 23 Jul (Fri 17 and Sun 19 Jul to be followed by discussions). Visit or for more information.

(Interview by Paul Dale)

'Take One Action, Scotland's social action cinema project, is organising pointers to action around the release of Burma VJ. This will include discussion with Sarah Boyack MSP, who has a long-standing interest in Burma (Friday 17 Jul, 6.15pm, Filmhouse), and campaigner Ewen Hardie, who recently walked barefoot from Edinburgh to Downing Street to protest in solidarity with Burmese pro-democracy campaigners (Sun19 Jul, 6.15pm, Filmhouse). Simon Bateson, Take One Action's director, says ‘We celebrate people and films which change the world, and Burma VJ brings those together in one of the best and most cinematic documentaries we've seen in years. Don't wait for the DVD. If you want to do more than just watch the film, join us at Filmhouse in July to meet people who are making a difference here in Scotland for millions of forgotten Burmese.’

Friday 17th July, 6.15pm.

Discussion and pointers to action, with Sarah Boyack MSP and John Watson, Scottish Programme Director, Amnesty International.

Sun 19 July, 6.15pm.

Discussion and pointers to action, with Burma Educational Scholarship Trust and campaigner Ewen Hardie, who recently walked barefoot from Edinburgh to Downing Street to protest in solidarity with Burmese pro-democracy campaigners.

The Co-operative, a long-time campaigner for democracy in Burma are co-distributing the film BURMA VJ with independent film company Dogwoof. It will be released at a nationwide Saffron Premiere event on 14 July.

The Co-operative is in its tenth year of campaigning on Burma. In line with the call from democratically-elected representatives of the Burmese people, The Co-operative does not trade with Burma, The Co-operative Travel has delisted the country as a tourist destination, and The Co-operative Bank will not finance any organization with a significant commercial presence in Burma.