Thursday, July 30, 2009


Balibo was the second docu-drama I have seen at this film festival. It follows young, cocky José Ramos-Horta as he co-ops Roger East a veteran Australian reporter who is living in alcoholic semi-retirement in Dawin to come to East Timor and head up the new East Timor news agency. He temps East with the story of 5 missing young journalists from Australia's channels 7 and 9. Roger East is completely uninterested in the job offer, but is interested in fate of the other journalists. Once in East Timor he nags José Ramos-Horta into driving him to Balibo (a town on the border with Indonesia).

The story of the 5 missing journalist is told in parallel using more grainy footage. I found this confusing as the two stories take place only 3 weeks apart. It becomes clear from this story line that José Ramos-Horta was also involved here. The personalities of the 5 are not clearly differentiated and their story is fragmented and hence harder to follow than Roger East's story. What also isn't clear is the chronology of political events. When does East Timor become independent with respect to the two stories? Is José Ramos-Horta a government official or does he represent a would-be government?

The Roger East story line is the best acted and directed part of the film. José Ramos-Horta comes across as a sunglasses wearing superhero. He seems to know the secrets of three governments (Australia, Indonesia and East Timor) even when many km from any telephones and knows everyone in East Timor personally! This persona is only shaken twice during the film. Roger East seems to shake off his retirement and alcohol dependency very quickly and turns into a reporter again. Their conflict is very watchable.

I guess it was intentional that Roger is so much more interested in the fate of 5 white guys than the fate of a country being invaded. The director is challenging us to think about the implied racism in our attitudes to the 3rd World.

Ian's rating 2.5/5

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