This Prison Where I Live

This Prison Where I Live


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The trouble with reporting from closed-off countries, such as North Korea and Burma, is managing to shoot any sort of meaningful footage without getting yourself arrested or bringing the legal system crashing down from a great height on your interviewees. Occasionally, as with recent Danish film The Red Chapel, a director comes up with an idea so incredibly clever that they are able to get away with it. More usually, however, the resulting documentaries, such as Burma VJ and this latest from Rex Bloomstein, sadly end up serving as their own illustration of just how hard it is to capture these countries' problems on camera.

Here the veteran documentarian turns his attention to the plight of Burmese comic Zarganar, whose brand of humour is both hugely popular in his homeland and fearlessly political. After meeting Zarganar at his home and talking about the problems he faced following a period of imprisonment that left him banned from performing or having any of his work shown, Bloomstein was shocked to hear that he had been sentenced to 59 years in prison (later commuted to 35). His crime? To talk to the world's press about the regime's failure to save people in the wake of 2008's Hurricane Nargis.

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Bloomstein's determination to give voice to the comic's plight sees him join forces with German comedian Michael Mittermeier - who views Zarganar as something of a kindred spirit - to travel back to the country in an attempt to get closer to him. The problem is that, on arriving back in Burma, no one is willing to be captured on camera, meaning that we are left with just Mittermeier's observations for company. While he is no doubt witty and sincere, it's hard to make a documentary 'stick' properly in the mind without at least a handful of local subjects. The resulting film is strongest in its early footage of Zarganar, capturing his vitality and his bravery - "we must stand in front of the people," he says, and is clearly willing to sacrifice his freedom if needs be.

Once in Burma, however, it gradually loses ground as, try as they might, the filmmakers find it almost impossible to capture anything significant on camera. It's a shame they couldn't have, at least, spoken to some Burmese people who have escaped the country about Zarganar's influence to help round out the testimony. Because of the lack of 'pay-off' on their visit - the closest they get to the comic is some hastily shot footage of his prison walls - the documentary would also have benefitied from a brisker runtime as it feels rather bloated at 90 minutes. A brave attempt which, though lacking content, is still a worthwhile testimony to a fearless spirit.

Those interested in the campaign to free Zarganar, can read more at

Reviewed on: 29 Oct 2010
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The plight of jailed Burmese comic Zarganar.
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Director: Rex Bloomstein

Writer: Rex Bloomstein

Starring: Michael Mittermeier, Zarganar

Year: 2010

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: UK, Germany


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Burma VJ