We all have heard of Viet Nam, the war, the nation, the initially secret but eventual major involvement of the United States in a war against a small Asian country. But what about East Timor?
East Timor is a small island country of black and brown people located below Indonesia and above Australia (which is itself also a historic country of color now majority populated by people of European descent, and within which the indigenous population is a disadvantaged minority). Most of us have never heard of East Timor, which was a former Portuguese colony whose history can be traced back over 40,000 years. In 2002 it became an independent country after being occupied by Indonesia from 1975 to 1999.
In 1975 five Australian journalists were killed. This 2009 film is their story–not just the journalists but also the people of East Timor and their independence struggle. One of the lead characters, portrays Jose Ramos-Horta, who eventually received the 1996 Noble Peace Prize and became the second president of his country (2007-2012).
Although this is mainly a war movie focusing on five young tv journalists, an initially reluctant veteran writer, and a charismatic East Timor activist, the soul of the movie is a woman: Juliana, portrayed by Vea Viegas. Her brave statement and shy observing frames the movie. She is first seen years after the event testifying at the Timor-Leste Commission For Reception, Truth And Reconciliation. Juliana is present throughout as a little girl witnessing the action.
As is generally the case with western movies concerning imperialism and economic conflict, a lot of the political and economic context is only fleetingly presented. To get a deeper understanding requires far more than spending an hour or two looking at a movie. Go here (https://www.etan.org/resource/books.htm) for a list of resources on East Timor. The abbreviated analysis not withstanding, this movie is an engaging introduction that will give you a lot to think about.
The Balibo Conspiracy is an important starting point to get up to speed on global struggles against exploitation–in this case, Indonesian oppression of East Timor.
I was in Nicaragua during the contra-war of the late-70s and 80s. The Balibo Conspiracy immediately transported me back to my experience as a journalist traveling through a war zone. Parts of this movie seemed to be a documentary rather than a dramatic re-enactment. People living at a subsidence level, guns everywhere, buildings blown up, and death’s constant funky stench fouling the atmosphere at battle sites–well, yes, while it’s true that you can’t see an odor, this movie will lead you to imagine what conflict smells like.
The Balibo Conspiracy is available on Amazon, please check it out. Please do not ignore or overlook what happened on the other side of the world from us. Whether we are aware or not, this is an other side to which we are connected. Indeed, this other side is really just another side of us.