Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oscar-Nominated Documentaries: Burma VJ & The Cove

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country
Directed by Anders Ostergaard
Released May 20, 2009

The Cove
Directed by Louie Psihoyos
Released July 31, 2009

Two of the films nominated for this weekend’s Oscar for Best Documentary are no longer in theatres. While “The Cove” has been out on DVD since December, “Burma VJ,” which enjoyed an extremely brief theatrical run last May, won’t be available on DVD until around June. Luckily, the IFC Center in New York City brought the latter film back for one night as part of the Stranger than Fiction series last week. These two films actually have quite a bit in common, and it’s very interesting to look at these two posited beside each other.

With any hard-hitting documentary, exposing the facts requires a certain determination on the part of the researchers and often forces them to put their lives in serious danger. In the case of “Burma VJ,” the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) faces life imprisonment by the military government and the destruction of all of the video material its members have worked to assemble. In “The Cove,” former Flipper trainer Richard O’Barry and his team of dolphin rescuers also risk the daily possibility of being apprehended and held without anyone back home to come and save them. The stories of people being beaten and shot versus dolphins being murdered might not exactly carry the same weight, but through these two films, each presents an extraordinarily compelling tale.

In both “The Cove” and “Burma VJ,” a brave few try to expose some truth about which the rest of the world seems hopelessly unaware. In the effort to save the dolphins, the small crew seeks to film as much as they can so that they can use it to inspire others back in the United States and other countries to take part in the cause. In Burma, however, the most significant part of the work done by the DVB is the transmission of the footage taken to the rest of the world and even back into the closed country of Burma. Spreading information is paramount, and if a small number of people can inspire hundreds, thousands, or millions, then maybe the world can be changed one step at a time.

The two films take different tones in spotlighting their respective injustices. “Burma VJ” is an ultra-serious instance of true groundbreaking reporting from a closed country, as the subtitle suggests, and it operates under the premise that everyone is watching and therefore it’s simply unbelievable that nothing is changing. “The Cove” starts with the opening line “we tried to do this legally” while operating as a thriller of sorts, but there’s a fair amount of humor in the film, including O’Barry deliberately lying to police in interviews and answering the question “how many times have you been arrested” with “this year?” O’Barry also utters a distinctly trademark line that no other person in thee world could call their own: “if there’s a dolphin in trouble anywhere in the world, my phone rings.” The DVB similarly attempts to prevent any government misconduct in the country of Burma. These watchdogs are doing incredible work, and these films do their stories justice.

Burma VJ: B+
The Cove: B+

1 comment:

Greg Boyd said...

Glad you liked "The Cove". I thought it was really good. I haven't seen "Burma VJ", but it sounds interesting.