Director: Annie Goldson
Country: New Zealand
Running time: 77 minsNew Zealand
Producer: Annie Goldson
Production co: Occasional Productions
Executive producer: Gaylene Preston
Photography: Leon Narbey
Editor: John Gilbert
Music: Stephen Taberner
M contains violence
Helen Todd grew up in Gisborne. In 1963 while studying history at Victoria University, she met her future husband whom she accompanied back to Malaysia. Their son Kamal attended school in New Zealand and went on to university in Sydney where he studied Indonesian politics at NSWU. In 1991 he made his second visit to East Timor to coincide with the United Nations delegation visit which promised to focus world attention on the plight of the Timorese. Civil unrest following the cancellation of the delegation triggered an infamous reprisal from the Indonesian military culminating in the Dili massacre in which 270 people were killed. One of the victims was Kamal.
As Todd, who had always known and understood Kamal’s activism, familiarised herself with the extent and particularity of the human rights outrage that had claimed him, she entertained little hope of redress or consolation. Three years after the massacre, the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York provided the opportunity to recognise the political significance of his loss when they invited Todd to testify in an international court against the regime that had taken so many lives.
Punitive Damage continues that process just as international attention focuses again on the long persecution of the Timorese. While assiduously avoiding the suggestion that Kamal’s death was more tragic than any other in East Timor, Punitive Damage evokes his shining example through his letters, photos and the articulate testimony of sisters, friends, comrades and mother. Thanks to her activism and Goldson’s superb film, his beauty, vitality and selfless dedication to a struggle far greater than himself continue to incite an end to the barbarous rule of his murderers; and a challenge to those, such as our own government, who have supported them. — Bill Gosden