A founding member and the executive director of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance, U Pyinya Zawta, who spent ten years of his life behind bars for his pro-democracy activities, was one of the leaders of 2007’s “Saffron Revolution”—the nonviolent demonstration by thousands of Buddhist monastics calling for economic and political justice in the military-ruled country.
He’s also an integral part of “Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country,” which was honored with a nomination for this year’s Best Documentary Feature Oscar. (In the end, the award went to “The Cove.”) Directed by Anders Østergaard and distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories, which is headed up by Beastie Boy and Tibet activist Adam Yauch, the film features the work of citizen journalists inside the Saffron Revolution as well as stylized reenactments of key moments.
U Pyinya Zawta and I spoke before the Oscars through translator Aung Moe Win, a graphic designer for the exile magazine The Irrawaddy who also made our interview possible. (Aung Moe shared his own remarkable story with PBS’s Frontline for their episode “Burma: State of Fear”.)
Danny Fisher: Venerable, for those who don’t know you, would you please introduce yourself?
U Pyinya Zawta: I am U Pyinya Zawta, one of the monks who led the Saffron Revolution. I now live in the United States and do what I can to raise awareness here about the situation in Burma. I often visit colleges and universities, giving speeches and offering screenings of Burma VJ.
There have been some interesting editorials in the last week or so—specifically at the New York Times’s Carpetbagger blog and Foreign Policy—about the “importance” of the Oscar nomination for Burma VJ. Would you say something about why you think the Academy’s notice is so important?
Burma VJ is very important because it can help raise awareness and educate viewers about what’s happening on the ground in Burma. The film shows the horrible things that are taking place there, and also demonstrates how people are forced to gather information. The more people who see the film, the more people can see what’s happening.
What’s next in terms of projects aimed at raising public consciousness about the struggle for democracy in Burma? What do you think the movement for democracy needs?
People are getting to know more and more about Burma, but they also need to learn about approaches toward this illegitimate regime. The coming election will not be legitimate. Anything that can help the world community understand this and raise their voices for Burma is important.
What are some simple things that concerned readers can do to help?
What they can do is write or phone their elected officials to educate them as necessary and put pressure on them to not recognize this election. Another way to be helpful, especially to the monks now imprisoned in Burma’s notorious prisons, is to support the All Burma Monks’ Alliance. They are doing so much to help. Visit the website at http://www.allburmamonksalliance.org.
If Burma VJ wins the Oscar, what will you say to the millions of people watching? Or what do you hope others will say?
The most important thing to say is that the world community must stand up for Aung San Suu Kyi and the monks imprisoned in Burma, and work for their freedom.