Timor Leste Documentary Film Festival class=

Timor Leste Documentary Film Festival

Doug Hadden, VP Products

Independence Day in the United States reminded me of recently independent countries like Timor-Leste. The struggles for independence and sustainable development in the former Portuguese colony has been well documented. I’ve collected a few of these documentaries and news programs ahead of the July 7 parliamentary elections.

Some of these documentaries are disturbing. Discussions are frank. Words or not minced. Some of the footage is raw. There are points of view taken in the heat of the moment that you may disagree with.

These documentaries are useful for understanding the development context: what has been accomplished and the challenges that remain.

I’ve used the descriptions used by the content providers.


The Diplomat

Screen Australia via Culture Unplugged

“The Diplomat follows East Timor’s freedom fighter and Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos Horta in the final tumultuous year of his campaign to secure independence for his country. The former Portuguese colony was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. Exiled soon after, José Ramos Horta exchanged his gun for the suit and tie of a diplomat. He spent 24 years as a roving ambassador, fighting to ensure the world did not forget East Timor’s desire for freedom. His is a life driven not by personal political ambition but by the debt of blood he owes to fellow Timorese who have died in the conflict, including two brothers and a sister. “The Diplomat” takes up Ramos Horta’s story in the final dramatic stages of his long journey – the fall of Indonesia’s President Suharto, the referendum to determine East Timor’s future, the overwhelming vote for independence, the devastating carnage that ensued, the intervention of United Nations peacekeepers, and Ramos Horta’s final triumphant return to his homeland. José Ramos Horta allowed the film-makers extraordinary access to his public and personal life. The film reveals his strengths and weaknesses, his moments of doubt and frustration, his anger and disappointment, his elation and triumph, his charm and his dry humour. Ramos Horta emerges as a tenacious and beguiling character whose role as a diplomat and peacemaker was crucial to achieving independence for his country.”

Women on Patrol

National Film Board of Canada

“This feature documentary follows Canadian police constables Martine LeRoyer of Montreal and Debbie Doyle of Edmonton on a 9-month tour of duty in East Timor with the United Nations Civilian Police. Combining intimate interviews, up-close footage and diary cams, the film documents the enormous challenges LeRoyer and Doyle face, from adapting to a new culture and gaining the trust of frightened communities to performing perilous and heartbreaking police work.Women on Patrol is a riveting look at the rebuilding of a nation, and how the experience profoundly transforms these women – as police officers and as humans.”


Death of a Nation

“An act of genocide on the East-Timorese people carried out by Indeonesian Troops with the backing of Western Nations ie., Australia. East-Timor is a country with substantial resources such as oil, which naturally, sparked controversy on the intentions behind the brutal genocide of its people.”

Capacity Development

“This short documentary showcases UNDP support to the government of Timor-Leste to develop the capacity of newly established institutions, namely the Judiciary system. In particular, the documentary looks at the work of the Judiciary Training Center, established under a UNDP project to train Timorese law graduates to become judges, public defenders, layers, etc. for an effective and efficient judiciary system. The documentary also touches upon UNDP support for the introduction of systems and processes to improve the performance of judiciary institutions in Timor-Leste.”

East Timor Documentary – Noam Chomsky

‘In the mid-1970s, the United States was completing a painful retreat from Indochina. A staunchly anti-communist Indonesia was considered by the United States to be an essential counterweight, and friendly relations with the Indonesian government were considered more important than a decolonization process in East Timor. The United States also wanted to maintain its access to deep water straits running through Indonesia for undetectable submarine passage between the Indian and Pacific oceans.

On the day before the invasion, U.S. President Gerald R
. Ford and U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger met with Indonesian president Suharto and reportedly gave their approval for the invasion. In response to Suharto saying “We want your understanding if it was deemed necessary to take rapid or drastic action [in East Timor].” Ford replied, “We will understand and not press you on the issue. We understand the problem and the intentions you have.” Kissinger similarly agreed, though he had fears that the use of US-made arms in the invasion would be exposed to public scrutiny, talking of their desire to “influence the reaction in America” so that “there would be less chance of people talking in an unauthorised way.” The US also hoped the invasion would be swift and not involve protracted resistance. “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly,” Kissinger said to Suharto. Kissinger’s main fear appears to have been that a violent take-over by the partly communist FRETILIN party might inspire similar Communist victories throughout Asia and possibly even lead to secessionist revolts threatening the very survival of Indonesia as a state.

The US supplied weapons to Indonesia during the invasion and the subsequent occupation. A week after the invasion of East Timor, the National Security Council prepared a detailed analysis which found that the vast majority of the military equipment was U.S. supplied. While the US government said they had suspended military assistance from December 1975 to June 1976, military aid was actually above what the US Department of State proposed and the US Congress continued to increase it, nearly doubling it. Between 1975 and 1980, when the violence in East Timor was at its climax, the United States furnished approximately $340 million in weaponry to the Indonesian government. US military aid and arms sales to Indonesia increased from 1974 and continued through to the Bush and Clinton years until it was stopped in 1999. US arms provisions to Indonesia between 1975 and 1995 amounted to approximately $1.1 billion.

The UN’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR) stated in the “Responsibility” chapter of its final report that U.S. “political and military support were fundamental to the Indonesian invasion and occupation” of East Timor between 1975 and 1999. The report (p. 92) also stated that “U.S. supplied weaponry was crucial to Indonesia’s capacity to intensify military operations from 1977 in its massive campaigns to destroy the Resistance in which aircraft supplied by the United States played a crucial role.”

Evidence presented by Fretilin suggests that the degree of U.S. support for the Indonesian government’s efforts in East Timor may have extended beyond that of diplomatic support and material assistance. A UPI report from Sydney, Australia dated June 19, 1978, quoted a Fretilin press release, which stated: “American military advisers and mercenaries fought alongside Indonesian soldiers against FRETILIN in two battles … In the meantime, American pilots are flying OV-10 Bronco aircraft for the Indonesian Air Force in bombing raids against the liberated areas under FRETILIN control.”‘

The Shadow Over East Timor (1987)

“Summary: In December 1975, 20,000 Indonesian troops launched a takeover of East Timor. Australia turned a blind eye and the United States increased its military aid to Indonesia. This conflict is the least reported in modern history and this film brings to light eyewitness accounts of the real events. The people of East Timor are still continuing their struggle for independence.

Producers and directors: Denis Freney, James Kesteven, Mandy King.

Produced with the assistance of the Australian Film Commission.


News Reports

Timor Sea hides fight for taxes and royalties

July 05, 2012 ABC

“The Timor Sea is rich with oil and gas but East Timor is struggling to get the taxes and royalties it feels are due to it”


101 East : East Timor’s independence

“Is East Timor ready for a future without the foreign influence of the UN and other international forces?”

01 East – East Timor oil – Nov 13

“Six years after independence, East Timor is mired in poverty. But it also sits on a future oil and gas boom. But will it be a blessing or a curse?

Fauziah Ibrahim interviews Xanana Gusmao, the East Timor prime minister.”

Capturing Xanana

“Dateline obtains unseen footage of the 1992 capture of guerrilla leader, and now East Timor’s Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmão.

For more on Mark Davis’s report, go to the SBS Dateline website…http://bit.ly/iHkKYf

East Timor: 10 Years On

“The BIR travels to East Timor to examine nation-building in Asia’s newest country, 10 years after its people voted for independence from Indonesia. Part of the Fragile States series with PBS Newshour and the Pulitzer Center of Crisis Reporting.”

Blue Berets: ‘Welcome to Timor’

Graffiti in East Timor reads “I love you military kanada.”