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Anders Østergaard and “Joshua” of “Burma VJ”

Anders Østergaard and “Joshua” of “Burma VJ” (photo)

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It’s easy to overlook “Burma VJ” in the Sundance line-up — a documentary about Burmese reporters risking their lives to report on the conditions within their closed country sounds like the type of earnest, pedagogic film that offers up a pressing issue for audiences to tsk about and then forget after leaving the theater. But to preemptively classify it as so is to do “Burma VJ” a terrible disservice. The film, assembled by Danish director Anders Østergaard primarily from handheld camera footage shot during the 2007 anti-government protests, is an astounding journey through the exhilaration and terrible danger of the first major protests in the country since the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations that ended in thousands being killed by the military junta. “Burma VJ” is filtered through the perspective of a young journalist given the pseudonym “Joshua,” who’s part of the Democratic Voice of Burma, a media organization that circumvents the government-controlled news by smuggling their footage out of the country to Oslo, where it’s broadcast via satellite. In 2007, it was the DVB’s coverage of the protests that reached international outlets like the BBC and brought global attention to a nation in which traditional media coverage has long been impossible. I had a chance to talk with Østergaard and Joshua about the conditions in Burma and the difference between filmmaking and journalism.

How did “Burma VJ” begin?

Anders Østergaard: I was invited to do a film on Burma three or four years ago. We had some early thoughts of trying to portray this closed country from life on the borderline — people going in and out — to reflect what was going on in there. It was maybe too conceptual. I was looking for more concrete people, so to speak, and during that process, we became aware that a lot of people are trying to shoot inside the country, many of them regular citizens. We realized that next door to us in Norway there was actually a TV station broadcasting reports that were smuggled out of the country. For me, it seemed like a perfect platform to make a film about the country: not just the footage, but also the people who were actually doing this: why, how and what went through their head. I went to see a group of reporters who came out to be trained in Thailand. Through the course of that, I met Joshua, who understood intuitively what we were trying to do and was very generous about trying to describe how life as a secret reporter really is. That got us started, way before the uprising. I was planning to do a short documentary, a human interest, intimate thing about his life and thoughts and then it exploded into a much bigger story in all respects.

When did the decision come about for the majority of the film to be footage that was shot by the reporters?

01212009_burmavj2.jpgAO:That was born into the project from the beginning, even in the small format. My approach was that the film should be based on the footage, but with an audio soundtrack that would give more insight. That survived into the ultimate film, as we developed these reconstructed conversations, telephone conversations. That’s really the spinal cord of the film when you look at it, the understanding of dramatic developments.

And the choice to filter the point of view through Joshua, even as he’s removed from the main setting of the action and forced to stay in Thailand?

AO: Of course, first we thought, “Well, our main character has left the scene,” which was a bit awkward. [laughs] We really had no choice. [to Joshua] You did, as you said yourself, take a little bit too much of a risk and had to escape. But we slowly realized that it was actually quite a gift, that we had this guy who was trying to follow what was happening inside because we could hold his hand, trying to understand what was going on. And I learned that this distance had some tremendous suspense value, that we are with him trying to find out what’s happening over there, which became the dynamic of the film.

Joshua, how long ago did you first get involved with the DVB?

Joshua: I first worked with the DVB during 2003, and I became one of the first cameramen on the ground. But I got my first professional training as a cameraman in Bangkok, in 2005, I first met with [the “Burma VJ” filmmakers]. I didn’t really know at the time how big this project was, and what I had to do at the time. [It was] just an assignment from my college. They just introduced me to these people, and I talked with them. That’s all I knew about, at the time. But after I’d seen their demo about what they had done on the project, I thought I really had to go on… I mean, I need to talk for everybody, not only for me, not only for our group, but also for everybody in Burma.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.