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The Co-Op backed Burma VJ shows the reality behind the monk rebellion & crackdown

burmaThe first feature film to ever be screened at Number 10, in an event set-up by Sarah Brown on Aung San Suu's birthday, and the first feature from the Co-Op Group's new partnership with distributor DogWoof - Burma VJ is a guerilla documnetary made up of footage smuggled out of Myanmar (Burma) by video journalists in the country (and is a great example of open video's relationship with traditional film):

"Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Anders Østergaard, the award winning, powerful and shocking documentary provides a unique glimpse into life on the streets of Burma’s capital – Rangoon. The vast majority of the film consists of illegal footage using concealed cameras. Burma VJ, reveals this hidden world, seen through the eyes of the undercover VJs (Video Journalists) who document everyday life under a military regime.

Filmed over a number of days, the VJs by chance end up recording the appalling treatment of the Burmese citizens and monks – which caused a global uproar, after their peaceful protests resulted in violent opposition by their government.

vjposterThe Burmese VJs risk torture, imprisonment and even death in their quest to report honestly what is going on in their closed country. The material in this film has been made possible through illegal smuggling and broadcast to international media (whom the government accuses of lying) and into Burma via satellite. Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals and Sustainability, explains The Co-operative’s motivation for supporting this film:

“People put their lives on the line to get this footage out of Burma in the hope that the world would take notice. News stories come and go, but the oppression in Burma is as bad as anywhere on the planet, and we mustn’t turn a blind eye”.

The film not only exposes the threat the government faces from the camera wielding VJs but also the day-to-day hardships faced by the Burmese.

Independent film distributor Dogwoof has teamed up with The Co-operative to release Burma VJ in the UK.

Burma VJ  will be previewed nationwide at the Saffron Premiere on 14 July and released on 17 July  by Dogwoof and The Co-operative.

The Co-operative has been trying to keep Burma in the public eye for a number of years. Since 2000, The Co-operative Bank has declined to provide financial services to any company with a significant presence in Burma. In 2005, The Co-operative Financial Services supported the Burma Campaign UK in a campaign that argued the case for the withdrawal from Burma of Total. The Co-operative Travel has also delisted the country as a tourist destination.

(This article was based on a press release from Substance PR with minimal editing)


Open Video from Iran: 10 essential web videos

The importance of open video and free media has been established beyond doubt this last week following the events in Iran. Ten key videos, including the heart-stopping 'Poem from the rooftops of Iran' (below) have been compiled by Ben Parr @, [via Xeni @ BoingBoing, via Raymond Leon Roker)]. The one that really made me shivver when I first saw it has now received almost half a million views and is also below. Taken from a mobile phone it shows an almost classical story, as it moves from injustice (motorcyclists drive into crowds), reaction (motorcycle on fire) to redemption (as the crowd rescues the motorcyclist, take him to safety and give him water).

Riot Police caught by crowd

Poem from the Rooftops of Iran

May peace prevail.


US campaigning journalist 'instrumental' in exposing UK expenses scandal

"We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
Their perch and not their terror."
Angelo, Measure for Measure

Because I don't read the papers everyday any more, I missed this story of the wonderwoman researcher/writer with dual US/UK citizenship, Heather Brooke, who battled for years to get hold of, through the Freedom of Information Act, the expenses details that were eventually leaked to the Telegraph.

She wrote a book with Ian Hislop on how to use the Freedom of Information Act just after it came into law, and runs a blog, Your Right to Know, and If I had bought last Friday's Guardian I would have learnt of her sooner, for she was on the cover of their G2 section (pictured). If any member of the public should have been able to get access to the expenses, it was her.

"She made a verbal request to Parliament in 2004 for records on members' expenses as an experiment in her research on the new FOIA law. She was told records would be released that October, and they weren't. Then promises were made to release information in aggregate, which proved worthless. She filed numerous FOIA requests after the law came into force in 2005. At least two other journalists did so, too.

Brooke and the other reporters were rebuffed with delays and refusals. Brooke obtained the free services of a prominent British lawyer. In a special court reserved for records cases, they won. But Parliament met that victory with more delay, and even an arrogant attempt to alter the law."
Seattle Pi

That MPs and the civil service fought so hard to keep the expense claims secret is a further shock after the events of recent weeks. Of course the public's indulgence is required that a fair share of these expense claims were made in error - as many doubtless were. And I hope that the public legislature in turn will provide similar indulgence for the sort of mistakes small business-people and freelancers make all the time. Tho I work from home, I've never tried to claim for house cleaning or renovation costs, but with every food or drink receipt I deduct from tax I worry if I've eaten too much. And there are countless more people who no doubt err on the side of caution with their Self Assessment form - the film writers who feel too guilty to claim for their cinema tickets, film books and DVDs because they also enjoyed them, or the bedroom entrepreneur who doesn't claim for a fair share of their rent or utilities. (Perhaps the government should make it easier by listing all the legitimate expenses by job-type that people would normally need an expensive accountant (or good wiki) to inform them of.)

But where there has been plain fraud, even exploitation of the system and its loopholes by the very folk who designed the loopholes yet would imprison any of us if we tried to rip of such significant sums, then the full criminal process is surely needed.

Yet this in turn should not distract from the far bigger and more urgent debate over why our political system in the UK is so embarrassingly antiquated to the point of being almost irrelevant, and certainly far less popular or debated publicly as reality TV. Compared to the US, with an elected upper house, full freedom of information and a president who can lead a house majority against him (kind of like the curious idea of Cameron leading a Labour majority in the commons) we are quite shockingly stuck in the 19th century and lazily blame the public for being disinterested, when every law in the country must pass through an unelected house from which no-one is allowed to retire.

As Heather Brooke told the Seatle Humble Pi "This is a very odd country. Although it likes to describe itself as the mother of parliament and the model of democracy, it is an amazing culture of secrecy." Just ask James Bond.


Setback for Network Neutrality as US Department of Justice rejects it

 netneutralpricingThe US Department of Justice has declared themselves against Network Neutrality. The background of this issue is  that ISPs and internet providers earn £15 and upwards a month for providing access to the Internet. But unlike similar subscription services such as Sky Movies and Virgin cable, they don't pay for the content on the Internet. They don't even cover the costs of your phone line. They just provide the means for you to get more data down your phone line than you normally would.

That said, no one really minds, they do a job that needs doing and they make up for the crummy deal with dependable access and decent telephone support (ahem). 

However, strangely, these telecoms companies, aren't satisified with the deal, and have decided that in future the costs of providing this more-data-down-your-phone-line-than-before service to customers is going to go up so much that they're going to need to start charging content producers to send data down that phone line. ie YouTube, the BBC and even you and me. 


Top 25 stories that the media missed

project censoredProject Censored - an organisation dedicated to tracking unreported news stories - has put together a startling list of 25 stories that the mainstream media has largely ignored in the last year. It makes depressing, but important reading. Especially to anyone working in news or documentary looking for a documentary subject worth sinking some teeth into.

#1 Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media

#2 Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran

#3 Oceans of the World in Extreme Danger

#4 Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US

#5 High-Tech Genocide in Congo

#6 Federal Whistleblower Protection in Jeopardy

# 7 US Operatives Torture Detainees to Death in Afghanistan and Iraq


India bans Blogger, Typepad and Geocities

India's Department of Telecomunications has begun to block dozens of websites, including any site from Blogger, TypePad and Geocities. Working from a '22-page list', ISPs in India have been instructed to prevent access to all listed websites. More information available from WithinAndWithout, SeaCrow and BoingBoing

From BoingBoing:

An Indian political blog is reporting that the ban was initiated by the Indian intelligence service to stop terrorism: Link.  According to their source, the terrorists are using blogs to communicate. Not only is this useless (because the terrorists can simply use proxies), it's akin to shutting off the country's telephone service because terrorists talk to each other through phones.


Screen Sex Violence Comes Under Scrutiny of BBFC


Screen Scrutineers To Quiz Audiences For the First Time

Controversial film Irreversible starred Minica Belucci - Audiences to be quizzedThe British Board of Film Classification has commissioned a team from Aberystwyth University is to research how audiences react to sexual violence in movies.

Researchers will now begin to quiz cinema-goers about some of the big screen's most controversial moments, in the first survey of its type commissioned by the UK film watchdog.

The BBFC hopes to find out what "ordinary members of the public" think of the sexually graphic films.


'Beijing Blogger' Hao Wu freed after 140 days

"At the same time, 50 other people are currently in prison in China for writing about ‘subversive’ subjects online,”

hao wuChinese blogger and documentary filmmaker Hao Wu has been released by the Chinese authorities after nearly five months in detention. His release was announced on her blog by his sister, Na (Nina) Wu on Tuesday. Nina has been steadily campaigning - along with much of the blogosphere - for his release.

Hao was arrested on 22 February while preparing a video report about an underground Protestant church. He was held in isolation for 140 days, during which he was never allowed to receive the help of a lawyer. The Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) never revealed the reasons for his arrest. He was said to be “under house arrest” but he was never allowed to receive a visit from his relatives or to telephone them. The PSB said this was necessary because there had been a “breach of national security.”


Da Vinci Code ban necessary to 'maintain peace'

da vinci codeThe Tamil Nadu Government in India told the Madras High Court on Thursday that it had powers under the Cinematography Act, to stop the screening of the Da Vinci Code, even though it had previously been approved. "A ban was necessary to maintain even tempo of life and it is a bonafide exercise in the interest of maintaining peace", the government claimed.