Britdoc PUMA Creative Award Finalist Burma VJ, Producer Lise Lense-Møller Gratified By Aung San Suu Kyi's Recognition

Burma VJ: 'Aung San Suu Kyi Mentioned Us In Her First Phone Call Home'

“Every film takes four or five years of work, so it has to be something that sparks my curiosity and something I think it’s important the world know about.”

For veteran documentary producer Lise Lense-Møller and her director Anders Østergaard, this meant teaming up with a team of young video journalists inside Burma, helping them to smuggle their news footage out of the closed country, and turn the material into a documentary, Burma VJ, that has now been Oscar-nominated and seen by an estimated 30 million viewers worldwide. It is one of the finalists for the prestigious PUMA Creative Impact Award, which recognises documentary-making for its social impact.

“We had no idea that, because of the timing, we would end up documenting the country’s biggest ever demonstrations against its tyrannous regime in 2007,” remembers Lense-Møller.

The resulting images were beamed across the world, helping ignite an international protest that the country’s leaders were forced to address. Their actions included arranging for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s iconic leader under long-time house-arrest.

“I can’t say for certain that the film directly influenced her release,” defers Lense-Møller. “But in her first phone call to her brother in England afterwards, I know she mentioned the film to him, which was immensely gratifying to me.”


The producer, however, remains all too aware of the personal cost to some of her video-journalists, whom she recruited through her association with the Democratic Voice of Burma.

“They were shooting material, and then tapes were being smuggled from person to person.

“It took nine months in total for us to get all the material, and in the meantime, many of our journalists were arrested, while others had to disappear underground.”

They can be satisfied, however, that their endeavours have been recognised. The final film has won over 50 film awards since it was first shown in 2009, been seen by state leaders including a screening at the British Prime Minister’s home, been distributed for use in schools, colleges and for anyone wanting to learn more about the situation in Burma. .

Most rewardingly for the producer, though, is the knowledge that Burma VJ has inspired a new generation of film-makers within the country itself.

“The whole point of the film was to chart the gradual process of change,” she explains. “So it’s completely fitting that the results of our work should be visible, personal and effect change bit by bit.”


Burma VJ is one of the five finalists for the PUMA Creative Impact Award, which recognises the social impact of documentary-making. The winner will be announced in London on 11 October 2011. Each Friday, the Huffington Post UK will feature the finalists in turn - next week: The End of the Line.


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