Sunday, May 2, 2010

Film Review: Afghan Star & Burma VJ

Last year when I went to visit my mother for the summer, she had upgraded her cable package to include HBO. Part of her package included this delightful thing called HBO on Demand. By the end of the summer, we looked at the record of what we'd watched, and I had watched twice as many documentaries as anything else. I could hardly believe it. Why did I not know this about myself? Who knew? I'm a documentary fiend!

Well, in the craziness of the past two weeks at school, I've managed to watch a handful of documentaries that really left an impression on me. I had to mention two that I think really helped me to understand more about our global society and regions of the world that I've wanted to understand better.

Afghan Star was an interesting and delightful documentary about Afghanistan's version of American Idol. The significance of the competition was that it not only brought together competitors from various social groups that had been separated under Taliban rule, but it opened up a type of democracy wherein the nation's people had a chance to vote (often by cell phone) for the performer of their choice. Under the Taliban, the people of Afghanistan had their TVs taken away, along with the banning of music and dance. Now, through this televised program, music brought together a nation hungry for unity, and a celebration of their identity as a country.

Through the documentary, you become familiar with the different performers, and the lives they lead. Some were from ethnic groups once derided by the general population, but cheered and loved by the nation for their amazing talents. Two women also participated in the competition, breaking strictures placed on women under Taliban rule, however, controversy brewed over the way the women portrayed themselves as they performed. If respectful, the audience supported and loved them. If not, the controversy brewed. Overall, I found this documentary delightful and enlightening. There is this hopefulness felt throughout the film that really warmed my heart and gave me hope for Afghanistan's future. It's funny how culture, when allowed to flourish, can change the hearts of the people much faster than any propaganda or warfare. No, it's not a permanent change, but at least offers some joy and hope in a region that has had very little. You can learn more about the documentary at their website at Afghan Star, as well as on Amazon at: Afghan Star.

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country was another amazing documentary I had the chance to watch off of HBO. According to the film, much of what we get in news reports comes from a group of undercover citizens known as the DVB, who operate by using small camcorders that they upload through the Internet or smuggle out of the country. After a 1988 uprising that left over 3,000 protesters dead, the citizens of Burma had settled into lives led in fear of a militarized government that had embedded spies and "thugs" out to silence anyone who spoke out against the government in any way. Limiting the information the people received through the media, the DVB risked life and security to record protesting and other forms of resistance going on in Burma.

After setting up the basis for the documentary, it shows the events that occurred throughout September of 2007, that led to the death of a Japanese journalist, as well as scores of Buddhist monks, and the imprisonment of hundreds of student and citizen protesters. In the beginning, when the monks chose to march in support of the oppression being felt by the people, it spurred on the courage of the general population who had previously been too afraid to make any sort of move. According to the culture, violence against monks was unheard of, and this helped the citizens to feel some comfort in their own uprising. Eventually though, as the protesting rose into the thousands, the military turned their violence on the monks, rounding them up to take them to prison, as well as forming night raids to round up and imprison monks.

This documentary was absolutely eye opening. As a winner of multiple film festivals last year, and as an Academy Award nominated documentary, you sense that the documentary has much to offer its viewers. This was absolutely true in the case of Burma VJ. I often think of myself as pretty well-informed. I watch the news, I read articles for myself, and I try to stay on top of world events (not just local). For me, this documentary caught me unaware and eager to learn more about Burma, as I understood so little about the region. Of course now I understand why I understand so little, as news reporters are not allowed into Burma, and much of the "smuggled" news has been cut off since 2007-2008. Honestly, I find the militarized fear spread by this government to be shocking, and wish there was more that I could do. I do recognize though that the first, and most important step is to be informed, and then to pass that information on to others. So, to that, I say that you should definitely check out this documentary to learn more! To read more about the documentary, see their film website at Burma VJ or can be pre-ordered here from Amazon: Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country.

I really love documentaries and the gaps in information they fill. Have you seen any great documentaries that you can recommend?

Well, I'm off to take a walk, in my attempt to get my 10,000 steps in today! Wish me luck in this crazy walking journey.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for reminding me about Afghan Star! I saw the director on The Daily Show a long time ago and really wanted to see the documentary, but of course I completely forgot about it.

    I tried to get my mom to sign up for On Demand, but she said it would be too expensive. Nuts. :(