"It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause."
-Theodore Roosevelt

11 August 2009

Balibo

There is a fine line between a documentary and a movie, but occasionally a film comes along that sits very comfortably on that line. Balibo is one of these. The very true story of Roger East, who Jose Ramos-Horta lured to East Timor in those few days between Portugal's withdrawal and Indonesia's invasion in 1975, Balibo follows East's efforts to find out what happened to the five Australian reporters who had vanished amidst the Indonesian advance.

The film has a unique quality that at once depicts East's story and allows the audience to engage fully with him as a character, while at the same time telling the story of the Balibo Five with a sense of documentary. The process is not unlike Brecht's verfremdungseffekt, in the way that the film shifts from building dramatic intensity to communicating the facts of the story.

This serves the purposes of the film makers very well. Talking about the making of the film (I went to Dendy's Q&A session), director Robert Conolly talks about the Indonesian government asking whether the film will include the Indonesian point of view, to which he responded that the last thirty years of hearing the Indonesian point of view hasn't gotten us any closer to the truth. I am not in a position to comment on the accuracy of this film as a historic record, but as a piece of cinema, it has more human honesty than your average documentary, and more depth than your average movie.

East Timor celebrates ten years of independence later this month, so this is a timely release, in a way. It is, however, an Australian film about six Australians. What remains is to hear the stories of the East Timorese who suffered 24 long years of Indonesian rule. The makers of Balibo are aware of this, and provided training to East Timorese working with them on their film, in the hope that they will one day do so.

2 comments:

Chris said...

Nice post Trevar!
And there is now also a fine line between documentary and mocumentary if District 9 is anything to go by
;-)

Trevar said...

Thanks Chris.
I've not seen District 9, so I'll have to keep an eye out for it.