Screened as part of NZIFF 2009
When Indonesian forces invaded East Timor, newly independent of Portugal, in 1975, the world turned a blind eye. Well, not quite. Two Australian television channels had reporters on the ground. Five of them – zealous young journos in their 20s, one of them, Gary Cunningham, a New Zealander – ignored every warning and kept their cameras rolling as the Indonesians made their advance on the Fretilin base at Balibo. It was not until 2007 that a NSW coroner’s enquiry confirmed that the Balibo Five, as they have become known, were not killed in crossfire, but trapped and coldly executed by the invaders.
Director Robert Connolly (The Bank) mines a wealth of material about First-World relationship to Third-World injustice from their story and from the parallel story of Roger East, a seasoned investigative journalist who was persuaded by José Ramos-Horta to travel to East Timor to find the missing men. Ramos-Horta, eventual winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and first President of Timor-Leste, is Ariel-like in his enticement of the older man, and a volume could be written around the mutual dependence of politicians and journalists embodied in the film’s dramatisation of their fractious relationship. Anthony LaPaglia is magnificent as the aging lion and Oscar Isaac charismatically elusive as freedom’s gazelle.
Connolly keeps the tension relentless and never lets us lose sight of the story the Balibo Five sought to cover in the first place. Balibo received funding assistance from the Melbourne International Film Festival’s Premiere Fund and will receive its World Premiere screening on the Opening Night of MIFF on July 24. We’re honoured to be next in line. — BG
A presentation of the Melbourne International Film Festival MIFF Premiere Fund at the New International Film Festivals