…entre nous soit dit…

between me you and the gatepost.


the balibo five journalists 1975 Balibo the Movie

Tonight I went to see the film Balibo and it was nothing short of amazing. At university I take both Communications and Politics and I was told by 3 teachers in one day to go see this movie… Tonight I finally decided to go see it and I’m so glad I did.

balibo the movie poster

Here’s what IMDB had to say about the movie:

As Indonesia prepares to invade the tiny nation of East Timor, five Australian based journalists go missing. Four weeks later, veteran foreign correspondent Roger East is lured to East Timor by the young and charismatic José Ramos-Horta to tell the story of his country and investigate the fate of the missing men. As East’s determination to uncover the truth grows, the threat of invasion intensifies and an unlikely friendship develops between the last foreign correspondent in East Timor and the man who will become President. BALIBO is a political thriller that tells the true story of crimes that have been covered up for over thirty years.

The film was nothing short of amazing and I especially thought that the use of some of the filming techniques was really what gave that authentic feel to the film and what helped to make it so confronting. In particular, the use of grainy film for the sections about the Balibo Five. The change between the grainy film and the modern high definition quality for the sections following East’s journey were smooth and barely noticed.

The only downside for me was that every time I saw Gyton Grantley (who portrayed Garry Cunningham), I automatically thought of him from his role in hit TV series Underbelly as Carl Williams. That’s how I know and recognise him, so it was a little distracting for me. The rest of the characters seemed very well cast, although I’m a little reserved as to wether Anthony Lapaglia was the best man for the role of Roger East. For the majority of the movie, he put in a stella performance, but there was one moment at the end of the film where they focus in on a close up shot of his face as he says dramatically, “I’m Australian.” That point just made me cringe at the over dramatised hollywood seeping in there. Oscar Isaac was the run away performance, even though he was only the supporting actor.

Malcom Rennie Balibo Fivecunningham balibo five australiaAnother thing that I thought ought to be commended though, is the strong ties the film had to the actual true history – keeping it as close as possible. By that I don’t just mean telling the tale accurately, but also recreating and re-enacting images and what film we actually do have from all the journalists that were in East Timor and concerned with the film.

Example: Left the real Greg Shackelton  Right Damon Gameau’s portrayal of Shackelton in the film).

Seeing this film, was the first time that I’ve actual felt scared about my career choice. There was a particular scene in the film that shows the death of the Balibo Five that was very confronting to me. When they stabbed some of the members of the group, I was really shocked by it. If there’s one death that I really don’t want to be my fate, then it’s definitely being stabbed. Except, that’s one very real occurrence and risk I would run working in a war torn area, although it is more likely I would be shot given today’s use of guns being vastly more popular thanks to cheaper arms deals.

Since deciding I was going to become a journalist, I’ve always wanted to do international journalism/correspondence and go to war torn areas or conflict zones. I wanted to write a piece that would change lives and break a story which would bring the truth to millions. Of course I was originally inspired by Jennifer Conolly’s role in Blood Diamond, but that’s a story where the journalist goes into a high risk area, survives and manages to write her article. It’s hollywood – she had to survive to tell the tale. 

Watching this movie though, it was very confronting because it was like, “hey you know you might die really young if you choose to do this”. It’s not like there’s ever a year when we don’t hear about at least one journalist being killed somewhere amongst a fight. A couple of years ago there were even those journalists held hostage and then beheaded. The terrorists filmed it all and it was broadcast. Their poor families. I’ve always joked around when people ask me what kind of journalist I want to be and I’ve replied with a casual answer of, “Oh you know… One of those journos that gets blown up in the middle east. I want to do correspondence.” Now I’m thinking that I’ve probably jinxed myself big time.

Greg Shackelton Balibo

 I really wanted to include this still from the film (to the left) on a side note, purely because it reminded me so much of my Dad. He owns a series two Land Rover exactly like the one used in the film (with minor differences in the back windows and back door). Not only the car, but also Shakleton’s look with the hair, boots and the shorts – I remember my Dad having that exactly look when we used to go on holidays as a child… although I remember him wearing thongs as opposed to the boots more often than not. There were quite a few scenes in the movie that reminded me of the very Aussie lifestyle and the images of Aussie’s you see from that era – especially of the boys in AFL at the time… I believe that was the time of the mustache was it not?

Shooting Balibo Maniaty

On another side note, I found an article from the Indonesian News (in english) and it says that they’re still denying that they murdered the five Journos, simply that they got caught in between fire from the Indonesians and the East Timorese Government. There’s also articles from the ABC about how the Australian Government has failed the Balibo Five at bringing there murderers to justice, and The Age, which is an interview with Tony Maniaty who was a journalist in East Timor at the time and crossed paths with the Balibo Five as he fled the country with his life. He has now written a book about the making of the movie and his memories of the whole experience called ‘Shooting Balibo’ (pictured right). I’m actually quite interested now to read that. He also teaches at the Sydney University of Technology, so I’m quite interested in that as well. Maybe do a year post grad there? Or my honours?

So back to the point: for anyone who hasn’t seen this movie, I thoroughly recommend it. Go see it NOW!


August 27, 2009 Posted by | journalism, just a quick note, movie review | 4 Comments