"Get that guy--he's a reporter." The order, shouted in Burmese amid the chilling sound of gunfire, can be heard in the preview of the new documentary, "Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country" by Danish filmmaker Anders Ostergaard. The preview also includes the now-notorious footage of a Burmese soldier fatally shooting Japanese cameraman Kenji Nagai at point blank as the journalist filmed the 2007 monk-led uprising known as the Saffron Revolution.
"Who did they shoot?" we hear a man ask in voiceover. "A guy with a camera."
More than a year later, Nagai's murder continues
to resonate in the media community. But this film, which will be screened in May at
the San Francisco
International Film Festival and
Ostergaard told me about the project by telephone from
"The big coincidence was that I was already working on a
film about these reporters when they became the center of attention for the
world press. Foreign news crews were not allowed inside the country, and I had
a contact in the satellite station Democratic Voice of Burma in
Ostergaard said he met 10-12 reporters in
The Burmese reporters were given pseudonyms to protect their identities.
concerns were built in from the beginning," Ostergaard explained, "as we
couldn't show their faces or mention names. We tried to make a virtue of
necessity. The film is carried by telephone conversations between a safe house
Ostergaard chose the term VJ in the belief that his subjects
were genuine journalists, though they were also players in the events, coordinating
with the monks to film what was going on, and provided momentum for the
uprising through their footage. The filmmaker compared them to the underground
The network of reporters inside
"There were three of them in the street during the shooting of Kengi Nagai," Ostergaard told me. "That day, they were just trying to be professional. They were just doing their job. They knew the fact that he was a foreigner would make a huge difference--it was an international story. But they also felt that he took a risk they would never have done, by filming the soldiers directly. He didn't know any better. I don't think they were shocked when he was shot. This was nothing new to them--they knew the danger."