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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.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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