Luigi Acquisto (Episodes One & Two) and Andrew Sully (Episode Two)
Luigi Acquisto and Stella Zammataro
Film Australia Executive Producer
Franco di Chiera
A FILM AUSTRALIA NATIONAL INTEREST PROGRAM IN ASSOCIATION WITH ABRACADABRA FILMS. DEVELOPED WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF FILM VICTORIA. PRODUCED WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF THE AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION
BIRTH OF A NATION
In 1975, after 460 years of Portuguese rule, Fretilin, the revolutionary front for an independent East Timor, declared independence for the small nation. Ten days later Indonesia invaded. Fretilin, and the resistance army Falintil, fought the Indonesian military for the next 24 years. A third of the population - over 250,000 people - died as a result of the occupation.
In 1999, Indonesia agreed to a United Nations supervised referendum and the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. The Indonesian army and the local militia it had created withdrew, burning, looting and killing, razing the country to the ground.
East Timor-Birth of a Nation looks at how a country is born, literally from the ashes, and how the East Timorese people are now working to build a future. Each program in this two-part series tells the powerful personal story of a remarkably resilient individual. In examining their experiences, the series explores the complex issues and difficult decisions that are involved in reconciling the past and creating a truly independent nation.
EAST TIMOR-BIRTH OF A NATION
EPISODE ONE – ROSA’S STORY
SYNOPSIS Rosa Martins was born in East Timor in 1974, the year before Indonesia invaded. Her father, a Fretilin delegate, was killed by Indonesian soldiers in 1978. Her mother died of starvation. Of eight siblings, only Rosa and her younger brother survived the occupation.
Rosa, a widow, was alone and pregnant when militia violence escalated in September 1999. She fled with her three sons to the United Nations compound in Dili and was later evacuated to Australia, where her youngest boy was born. Her two daughters, however, were still in East Timor. In desperation, she had sent them to an orphanage years earlier and, during the violence, they fled to the mountains with the nuns. When Rosa returned to Dili eight months later, she was relieved to discover her girls were still alive but devastated to find that she had lost her few possessions.
Rosa now lives with her three smallest children on a hill overlooking the capital, in a shack she has built from donated wood and tin sheeting. She earns a little money running a stall at a local high school but with so few resources she has been forced to send her eldest son to another orphanage. After 18 months, she has finally saved enough for the bus fare to visit the two distant institutions, where she and all her children will come together for the first time.
Although Rosa hopes one day to reunite her family, at the moment she is too poor and her home too tiny and derelict. But Rosa is determined to give her children a good education and the opportunities denied her by war and poverty.
This is the story of a proud and intelligent woman who is moving forward, exorcising the past and creating new chances for her family.
EAST TIMOR-BIRTH OF A NATION
EPISODE ONE – ROSA’S STORY
DIRECTOR’S NOTES The French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, wrote “and with burning patience we entered the splendid cities.” Pablo Neruda quoted Rimbaud when he accepted the Nobel Prize for literature. For Neruda, the splendid cities he alluded to were freedom, justice and democracy. His native country Chile was ruled by a brutal military regime. The East Timorese people were also occupied by a military regime, the Indonesian military, and fought for their own ‘splendid cities’ for 24 long years.
During this occupation East Timor lost a third of its population. Over 250,000 people died as a result of Indonesia’s policies of murder, torture and enforced starvation. This was the biggest genocide per capita in the 20th century.
The East Timorese showed incredible courage and tenacity in voting for independence on August 30 1999 rather than the autonomy model favoured by Indonesia. In the days following the announcement of the election results the Indonesian military, and the militia it created, put into action a well-devised plan. They embarked on a campaign of killing, rape, depopulation and the destruction and theft of property.
I arrived in East Timor a few weeks after the Indonesians had withdrawn from the country. This was a research trip and the idea for a documentary series quickly started to form. I had gone through the options of a program about the disturbing political expediency of successive Australian governments in relation to East Timor or the threat of a new form of colonialism led by the wave of ‘carpetbaggers’ that were flocking to the country, but it soon became clear that this program should be about something much more decent. It should be about the East Timorese themselves and their efforts to rebuild their nation.
I travelled to East Timor again the following August, this time with Film Australia development funding, to further research the series, and again, on a self funded trip, in December with my wife and co-producer Stella Zammataro.
We met Rosa Martins outside a medical clinic in Dili. Through a translator she told us some of her story. She was 27 years old and a widow. She had six children: the three youngest lived with her in Dili, and the eldest three in church-run orphanages in other towns.
Rosa had fled to the UN compound during the referendum and was later evacuated to Australia with her three sons. Her youngest son was born in Sydney a few months later. Her two daughters remained in the orphanage in East Timor.
Rosa spent eight months in Australia. She returned to Dili to find her house destroyed. It had been burnt and looted by the militia. Her daughters were alive, however, but she had not seen them since her return. She had been saving for 18 months to afford the bus fare to visit them.
Rosa lived in a house at the top of a hill in Balide, a suburb of Dili. For the inexperienced westerner it was a treacherous climb. The hill was steep, muddy at that time of year, and covered in lush green foliage. The house was a shack, one room with a dirt floor. It was clumsily partitioned into two rooms. There was no electricity, water or toilet.
The poverty in which she lived was sad. It moved us, and would continue to move us more as she became our friend. It contrasted, however, with her beauty and strength. The boys were radiant, mischievous and seemingly well adjusted. She made us coffee in the open fireplace in a corner of the room and told us more of her story.
She was born in 1974, a year before the Indonesians invaded. Her father was the Fretilin delegate for Maubisse, a rugged mountain district near Mount Ramelau, the spiritual centre of the country. His connection with the resistance meant that he and his family were not safe, and like thousands of others, they fled to the mountains to avoid capture. The Indonesians put in place a strategy of enforced starvation. Rosa’s mother, knowing that there was not enough food, refused to eat and died in 1978.
The Indonesians killed her father not long after the death of her mother. He was tortured and beaten in front of her, a child of four at the time, and then killed. Moments before his death he called her over and whispered to her to tell people that the Indonesians had murdered him. Rosa has kept her promise, telling us, and in effect the world, of his murder. Of Rosa’s siblings six perished in the next few years, starved or killed by the Indonesians. Only Rosa and a younger brother survived.
Rosa agreed to be the subject of our documentary. She revealed herself to be an intelligent and highly politicised woman. She was also a great storyteller and had a wonderful energy, drawing people to her. And she was so young, barely 27, and had lived so much and seen so much horror.
During this trip we also met Xanana Gusmão, the legendary hero of the East Timorese resistance. We were invited to travel and film with Xanana on a leg of his national civic education tour.
This was a very special experience. Xanana is an extremely charismatic man, a formidable military strategist, a fine intellectual and an accomplished poet. He was a generous host, welcoming, inclusive and attentive to the needs of his guests. His arrival in each village or town was heralded in a traditional East Timorese fashion. Men and women, often Falintil soldiers, riding bareback on the famous indigenous Timor pony, would escort his convoy into town. There would be bad bugle playing and the presentation of Tais, ceremonial weavings of exquisite colour and design.
This was the first time these communities had seen Xanana in the flesh. Some received him tentatively, others with a familiarity born of a common suffering. He would be embraced as an equal, but in many different ways, some held him as a brother, others as a father or a son. Some could not restrain their tears, others would clasp him firmly, victorious and proud.
He was a great orator, passionate, funny and penetrating. He would lift the spirit of whole communities, playing the buffoon or organising spontaneous soccer matches with the local team. Xanana’s position was goalkeeper, and there was something telling about this image, Xanana the goalkeeper of a nation, Xanana the future president. Footage of this trip features strongly in Episode One of the series.
We returned in March 2001 to start filming Rosa’s story. Rosa and her children were remarkably natural in front of the camera. Shooting became a distraction from the grind of her everyday life. It was also a cathartic experience. It gave her the opportunity to tell her story, to confide in us about the horrors she’d experienced, about her hopes for her children and the pain she felt at being separated from them.
Spending time with Rosa also quickly dispelled a number of well-intentioned ‘western’ ideas about what would make her life better. The biggest misconception was that she wanted to bring her children home from the orphanages and reunite her family. Rosa knew that this would not be possible. Her meagre finances would not allow her to feed six kids and her derelict house, barely the size of a small Australian shed, could not house seven people. This was not Rosa’s ideal world by any means, but at least she knew that her three eldest children were safe, had food to eat and were receiving an education.
The core of Rosa’s episode is her trip to visit her children in the orphanages in Los Palos and Venilale. Upon arriving in Venilale she discovered that Teresa, her eldest daughter, was to be suspended. This incident upset Rosa greatly and highlighted the complex relationship between the Catholic Church and the East Timorese people. The church is the only form of social welfare in East Timor. It houses and educates the many orphans of war, yet the relationship with ordinary women like Rosa is far from equal.
It was during this time that a trust was established between Rosa and the crew, a trust based on friendship. We became part of the family. Everyone in East Timor must have a place, and I became Rosa’s big brother and also the father to the kids. In East Timor it is not uncommon for men to assume the role of honorary father, particularly in the absence of a real father. Stella became Big Mama.
With this friendship came responsibility, both personal and professional. Rosa is a woman with very few resources, and given the patriarchal nature of East Timorese society, very few prospects unless she finds another husband. Rosa’s situation raised certain ethical questions, which I tried to address in the process of making the series. It was clear that, given her poverty, she should benefit from the production in a significant way. It would be outright exploitative if only we as producers, and Film Australia, benefited from the success of the series. Rosa was paid a fee, which she decided to use to build a new house.
Stella and I agreed to help organise the construction, and together with the support of East Timorese friends we set about the task of building a traditional East Timorese house. What I thought would be a straightforward task turned into a great challenge. Obstacles included an early wet season, unsympathetic neighbours blocking access to roads and water, and contractors revising their quotes during construction. The house was finally completed the day before we left East Timor.
The experience of making this series was a difficult, yet immensely rewarding one.
We left East Timor in mid September 2001. Rosa’s house was finished and she held a small party to celebrate. The new house has two bedrooms, a living area and a kitchen. Her eldest son João has subsequently returned to live with the family and is now attending school in Dili. The two girls still live in the orphanage but now come home during the long European style summer break.
Luigi Acquisto - Director/Producer
EAST TIMOR-BIRTH OF A NATION
EPISODE TWO - LU OLO’S STORY
For more than 20 years, Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres was a guerilla fighter in the East Timorese struggle against Indonesian occupation. He is one of only a handful of Falintil commanders who was never captured by the enemy and the only original member of Fretilin to have survived in East Timor. Now, he has left the military to take up the position of President of Fretilin, the political party that led the resistance.
Lu Olo’s wife, a fellow soldier, died during a battle in the early 1980s. His family wants him to find a new partner but Lu Olo is intent on rebuilding his country before he starts rebuilding his life.
For a long time, his family assumed he was dead. It’s a similar story for thousands of others who have returned from hiding places in the mountains to find themselves regarded as ghosts in the land of the living.
Lu Olo faces imposing new hurdles as he makes the transition from warrior to politician in the lead-up to East Timor’s first national democratic election. It’s a process that has ignited some old tensions, particularly with Xavier do Amaral, Fretilin’s founding president and now leader of the opposing Social Democratic Party of East Timor.
The campaign trail takes Lu Olo across the country and brings him in contact once more with friends who helped while he was in hiding and relatives who were imprisoned or tortured during the war because of their connection to him. Even now, there are rumours of a kidnap attempt against the Fretilin leader.
Yet the passage to the election is remarkably free of violence. Although Fretilin wins by a comfortable majority, it needs votes from other parties to pass the constitution. Old rivals become allies of sorts as Xavier is elected vice president and Lu Olo becomes president of the Assembly. Together, they will guide the country towards its first presidential elections after which the United Nations will officially hand over power to the parliament and East Timor will finally achieve full independence.
EAST TIMOR-BIRTH OF A NATION
EPISODE TWO - LU OLO’S STORY
The idea for Episode Two of this series was to tell the story of a soldier returning to life as an ordinary citizen after the war, and was further developed on my third trip to East Timor in December 2000.
I had met Xisto, a young Falintil soldier, on a previous trip and considered him a possible subject, however he had disappeared to the border, forming part of a contingent assisting Australian and New Zealand peacekeepers.
I had met Lu Olo, a former resistance leader, the previous September and he had been very helpful in organising access to the Falintil cantonment in Alieu, a little over an hour's drive from Dili. He had since resigned from Falintil to take up the position of Fretilin president. I approached him with the idea of making a documentary about his transition from soldier to politician, using the lead up to the election for a constituent assembly as a backdrop.
Lu Olo and the Fretilin central committee were open to the idea of a documentary. They were keen to have Fretilin’s story told, but also to balance the negative image of Fretilin that was being bandied about locally and internationally. The factionalism that fuelled the short civil war in 1975 was reforming. Politicians and parties that were dormant for 24 years suddenly re-emerged, fresh from their long sleep, apparently unaware of the occupation and keen to have power.
One of Lu Olo’s bitter rivals at the time was Xavier do Amaral. Xavier was one of the founders of Fretilin and the country’s first president. In 1978 he was expelled from Fretilin and denounced as a traitor. Xavier claimed to represent the true spirit of Fretilin, and unable to use the name Fretilin, adopted ASDT (Social Democratic Association of East Timor), the association from which Fretilin evolved in 1975. Xavier told us he was starting a new old party. He continued to sing the Fretilin national anthem, fly the flag of the republic that Fretilin declared in 1975, and chant ‘Viva Fretilin’ at every rally. This was material for a political satire that Jonathan Swift would have envied.
Fretilin saw themselves as the natural leaders of the country: they had declared independence in 1975, they had been in power when the Indonesians invaded, they had led the resistance, they had co-ordinated the international struggle. More so, Mari Alkatiri, Fretilin vice-president, was one of the party’s founders.
When I returned to Dili in July 2001 to shoot Lu Olo’s Story, the mood had changed markedly since earlier trips. The people were scared that the election would lead to violence. There were rumours of secret armies in the mountains, of death squads and of civil unrest and violence sponsored by pro-Indonesian parties.
Most disturbing to many locals was the appearance of three crocodiles in Dili harbour. There are many crocodiles in East Timor. The creature is revered and forms the basis of the country’s animist creation myth. However, these crocodiles were seen as a bad omen. Crocodiles last appeared in Dili harbour shortly before the 1999 referendum and before that in the weeks prior to the 1975 Indonesian invasion. Both instances were followed by widespread violence.
We started filming Lu Olo and Fretilin during the lead up to the August 30 elections to choose a constituent assembly. These were to be the first national democratic elections in East Timor. Fretilin expected to win, and to win by a huge majority.
We joined Fretilin on the campaign trail and travelled with them the breadth and width of the country, crossing dried river beds, negotiating treacherously narrow mountain roads, sleeping in cars or on the ground in burnt out buildings – experiences which the Fretilin leaders shared with us. Despite the discomfort, the trip was exhilarating in many ways. We were witnessing a rare occurrence - the creation of a new nation.
The crowds that greeted Fretilin were immense. The rallies were often cathartic and moving events. Lu Olo was bemused by the welcome Fretilin received. A short time ago it would’ve been impossible to shout ‘Viva Fretilin’ without the fear of arrest and torture. He said he always knew Fretilin would win, but he had no picture of what this victory would look like. The picture unfolding as he travelled through the country enthralled him. He likened it to a waking dream.
It became clear during the campaign that relations between Xavier and Lu Olo were becoming less tense. Xavier’s anti Fretilin rhetoric turned gradually into a hankering for the party he once led. He confided that he hoped Fretilin won the election. Xavier revealed himself to be a charming, affable and intelligent man.
The elections were held on August 30, two years to the day after the independence referendum was held. The day went smoothly and not one incident of violence was reported on the day, or during the campaign. It seemed as though the spell of the crocodiles had been broken. Fretilin won 43 seats or 57% of the vote, a comfortable majority, however, not the landslide they’d predicted. They were unable to write and pass the constitution without the votes of other parties. Fretilin was quietly disappointed. It was clear that the high number of small parties, each gaining less than 2% of the vote had eaten into their result. Xavier and ASDT did the most damage.
The two shared a similar history and ideology and this had split the vote in the districts where Xavier was popular. Xavier had won six seats or 8.7% of the vote. It was surprising therefore, given the tensions we’d observed, but not illogical, that after the results were announced Xavier formed a loose alliance with Fretilin. Fretilin invited him to the anniversary celebrations of its foundation day. Xavier accepted and was able to return to the fold without a loss of face.
Lu Olo was later elected the President of the parliament, Xavier the Vice-President and Mari Alkatiri the Prime Minister. Xanana Gusmão, who also featured in this program, has recently been elected President of East Timor.
The experience of making this series was a difficult, yet immensely rewarding and enlightening one. The history of East Timor since WWII provides a series of snapshots of our own country. There is the sending of troops to neutral Portuguese Timor in 1941 and its subsequent abandonment two years later. As a result over 60,000 East Timorese were killed by the Japanese in retribution for having helped, and fought alongside, the Australian diggers.
In 1975, many of these same diggers were outraged at Whitlam’s and then Fraser’s tacit support of Indonesia’s invasion of Portuguese Timor. Australia ignored and suppressed evidence that Indonesian soldiers killed five young Australian television reporters, the Balibo Five. A vigorous protest by the Australian government at this time would have certainly saved the life of Roger East, another Australian journalist shot dead by the Indonesian military shortly after the invasion of Dili. In the first two months of the occupation another 60,000 East Timorese were killed by the Indonesian military.
The cover-ups continued, right up to the 1999 referendum and the denial by the Howard government, in spite of solid evidence to the contrary, that the Indonesians were recruiting, training and paying local youths and men to form a militia. A militia which would provide a front for violence carried out by the military, as well as do a lot of the killing itself. Australia’s role in the INTERFET peacekeeping force sent to East Timor in October 1999 is admirable but certainly does not signal a shift from Australia’s narrow, myopic vision in their dealing with East Timor and Indonesia.
My knowledge of these intrigues and deceptions deepened as the series progressed. I found myself speaking to leaders like Lu Olo, Mari Alkatiri, Xavier do Amaral and Xanana Gusmão – men who simply, through talking about their experiences, refuted in the most matter of fact way the lies the Australian public has been fed for 25 years. This gradual unravelling of the truth about East Timor, with all its complexities and contradictions provided a fresh and telling perspective on local Australian politics.
Luigi Acquisto - Director/Producer
EAST TIMOR-BIRTH OF A NATION
BIOGRAPHIES Luigi Acquisto has worked as a documentary and drama filmmaker since 1986, when he graduated from the Swinburne School of Film and Television. His final year film Spaventapasseri, which dealt with the experience of migration, won awards at the Melbourne and St Kilda Film Festivals, and screened at international festivals including London, Edinburgh, Clemond Ferrand and Tyneside. It was also nominated for four AFI Awards.
His drama credits include the feature film Hungry Heart (1987) and the television drama The Chase (1993), an episode of the critically acclaimed anthology series Under the Skin.
In 1987 he made his first documentary You Jump, You Fly, an episode in the Australian Mosaic series for SBS-TV. In the following year he co-directed A Changeof Face, a three-part documentary series challenging representations of Australian identity on the screen. Since then Acquisto has directed many documentaries including Postcards from Italy (1990), about expatriate Australians in Italy. In 1997, he completed the documentaries Terra Incognita for RAI International and Big Bag’s Japanese Adventure for ABC-TV.
In 2000 Acquisto completed the critically acclaimed five-part documentary series Once Were Monks for Film Australia. Acquisto wrote, directed and produced the series.
Andrew Sully graduated from the VCA School of Film and Television in 1992. His short film Black Dogs garnered much acclaim on the festival circuit, winning the Grand Prix at the Festival Henri Langois and Best Film at the St Kilda Film Festival. Sully followed this success with another short drama A Dancing Foot and a Praying Knee. It was shown at festivals locally and internationally, received a national theatrical release and was nominated for two AFI Awards.
In 1995, Sully turned his hand to directing documentaries and with co-director Anna Broinowski made Hell Bento, an exploration of youth subcultures in urban Japan. The documentary was screened on SBS-TV, given a national theatrical release and sold to several overseas territories. It was voted Best Australian Documentary at the 1996 Sydney International Film Festival.
Sully joined Abracadabra Films in 1997 as an in-house director. Since that time, he has worked on a variety of projects including music videos and educational programs.
In 2000 Sully co-directed the critically acclaimed five-part documentary series Once Were Monks with Luigi Acquisto.
Andrew continues to work with Abracadabra Films developing documentaries and is currently writing a feature film.
Stella Zammataro is a company director of Abracadabra Films, and co-produced the five-part series Once Were Monks for Film Australia’s National Interest Program and SBS-TV.
She co-produced Terra Incognita for RAI International, Italy – a half-hour documentary looking at the stories of contemporary Italians living in Australia, and was also associate producer of Big Bag’s Japanese Adventure for ABC–TV, the story of a Geelong band’s tour of Japan.
Her credits include many educational programs for government clients including the Department of Human Services and the QUIT Campaign. She has produced over 1000 live-to-air language programs as part of the PALS & SALS series for the Department of Education and Cinemedia.
East Timor – Birth of a Nation is Zammataro’s most recent production. She is currently researching a number of documentary ideas and co-writing a feature film with Luigi Acquisto.
EAST TIMOR-BIRTH OF A NATION
EPISODE ONE – ROSA’S STORY CREDITS
HELDER DE ARAUJO
Sound Post Production
FILM AUSTRALIA PRODUCTION UNIT
Business Affairs Manager
With special thanks to....
Rosa Martins & family
Uncle José Guterres
Kirsty Sword Gusmão
Aquilino Guterres & family
With thanks to...
Marlene Izod, Etervina Gronen, Leo Gronen,
Dr Daniel Murphy, Ribeiro
Family, Kathryn Hughes, Sr Maria Leticia,
Sr Simoa, Fr Manuel Fraile
SDB, Fr Aguedo Palomo SDB,
Don Bosco orphanage, Venilale orphanage,
Liong family, Erin Oliver, Naldo Rei,
RGM Associates, Elizabeth
Gentle, Sergio Vieira de Mello, Barbara Reis,
East Timor 1999 footage
AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE
Courtesy of the AGE
HENRIKUS ADRIANO DOS SANTOS R.
Poi Nossu sung by
GRUPE CORAL DAS CRIANÇAS
PAROQUIA DE BALIDE
Mata Mohu composed by
HELDER DE ARAUJO
Harmonic composed by
José's Theme composed by
MANHA DE CARNAVAL
DOUG DE VRIES
Composed by Luiz Bonfa & Antonio Maria
(c) 1959 (Renewed) Les Nouvelles Editions Meridian (SACEM).
All rights administered by Chappel & Co (ASCAP).
Used by permission of Warner/Chappel Music Australia P/L