Balibo Movie

East Timor Indepedance celebrations in Darwin
I was in Darwin during the East Timor Indepedence celebrations in 2002. Darwin at the time had an estimated East Timorese population of about 4,000

I went to a sneak preview today of the new movie, Balibo.

Although much of the film’s narrative focuses on the death of five Australian journalists at Balibo, I thought the film balanced this narrative well with the broader story of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975.

In this film, Anthony La Paglia plays Roger East, the Australian journalist who was approached by Jose Ramos Horta to tell the story of what was happening in East Timor to the world stage, and to run the country’s media organisation. In the film he’s portrayed as a rough and ready character who probably drank too much, and who, despite an impressive early career as a journalist, was past his prime and living in Darwin. By the film’s end, he becomes somewhat of a hero in his efforts to tell the world the story it didn’t want to hear.

There’s a terrific exchange in the film where East and Horta talk about how to get the story out, and how, tragically, the death of five Australian journalists meant more on the world stage than that of an estimated 183,000 East Timorese. It was the difference between a mention on the back page and a front page story, East explained.

So even though the film focuses on the Australians who were shot, the film also shows the broader stories of the East Timorese people. In particular, the story of a young girl, one of the many thousands of people who gave evidence about her memories of the Indonesian invasion, in the years after East Timorese independence.

It’s a sad and distressing movie. There’s one scene where you see a whole field of people who’ve been shot dead. In other scenes, I had to turn my eyes from the violence. That said, there are some warm and tender moments too.

And it’s political without being dogmatic. I don’t know enough about the politics, though, to say if it was an accurate and fully rounded intepretation of the events. All I know is that I thought it was a really well made film that moved me deeply.

I don’t think they’re going to like it in Djakarta though…

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