A love story set against the background of the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste, the new film tells the story of Beatriz, whose husband Tomas disappears following the Kraras massacre of 1983.
Report – By Cassandra Mason
A team of filmmakers has launched a “guerrilla-style” fundraising appeal in a bid to complete Timor-Leste’s first feature film, an achievement they hope will kick start the country’s film industry.
A collaborative effort between FairTrade Films Australia and local company Dili Film Works, A Guerra da Beatriz (Beatriz’s War) will be Timor-Leste’s first feature film and the first ever in local language Tetum.
“For the first time the people of East Timor will see a film featuring their story, language, and faces,” says co-director Bety Reis.
Filming has now been completed and the crew is now focusing on raising the funds necessary to get it through post-production.
Just $12,000 short from completion, the team have been using “unorthodox methods” every step of the way, says director Luigi Acquisto.
One of these has been regular Thursday night film screenings at the Fundacao Oriente Theatre, a Portuguese cultural institute in Dili, to raise money.
The team has also used crowdsourcing, a fan club and sponsorship to help get the film made.
Being under-resourced has even meant that A Guerra da Beatriz had to be made in two, distinct parts.
Yet, despite the usual challenges, filming and production have gone well, Acquisto says.
He says the local support has been overwhelming.
“We’ve had incredible cooperation from government and the army.
“They’ve provided logistics and props – even decommissioned firearms. The scale was quite phenomenal.”
Acquisto says the most difficult thing about the fundraising appeal has been the strain that the constant need for financing has put on production and post-production.
However, he says it has been absolutely necessary.
“Given the nature of the film, and the lack of conventional avenues to raise funds, this has been the only way to proceed and it has enabled us to shoot the film.”
The idea for A Guerra da Beatriz came about in 2008 when producer Stella Zammataro and Acquisto were doing production and logistics for the film Balibo.
Among the hundreds of Timorese extras, they met the “phenomenal, world-class” actors that would star in their film.
From there, Dili Film Works was founded by locals Jose da Costa and Bety Reis and a partnership formed.
Acquisto says that while the film tells a fictional story, the actors’ experiences in re-enacting some of the scenes were anything but.
Part of the film deals with the 1983 Kraras Massacre, in which all of the men in the village of Kraras were killed in retaliation for resistance against the Indonesian occupation.
Village of widows
More than 150 men and children were killed and Kraras became known as the village of widows.
“We shot in the village where the massacre happened,” says Aquisto.
“It was a very hard thing to confront but also very moving for people.”
Acquisto tells of the moment when the actor playing the Indonesian commander was supposed to tell his soldiers to shoot.
“There was a silence. We looked around and he was in tears.
“It was incredibly powerful and people were reliving it.”
He says there was “really no difference between reality and fiction” for the actors, many of whom were there in 1983 when it happened.
Acquisto says he hopes the film can be part of Timor-Leste’s nation-building process as well as “showing the world that positive stories can come out of there too”.
“East Timor is a country that has been denied rights for many years. One of those rights is to tell their own story.”
Activist Maire Leadbeater, who was long involved campaigning for Timor-Leste’s independence, agrees that one of the biggest challenges it faces is a legacy of human rights abuses.
“The East Timorese still have to be considered a traumatised people.
“They’ve had to start from such a terrible place – a third of the population wiped out, years of not being able to trust other people.
“There has been no general accountability for past human rights crimes and people still live with that legacy.”
With regards to nation-building, Leadbeater says while there has definitely been progress in recent times, the country still has a long way to go in its recovery from the brutal Indonesian occupation.
“How do you establish an open democratic process after that sort of experience?”
Local NGO La’o Hamutuk emphasised this point in a letter written to the United Nations Security Council last year.
“Ignoring the roots of problems creates vulnerability for future crises.
“Continuing impunity for past crimes undermines peace, stability and development.
“When accountability is ignored, institutional consolidation alone cannot overcome weaknesses which threaten to undo the accomplishments of UN missions in Timor-Leste over the last 12 years.”
Yet journalist Bob Howarth, who helped set up Timor-Leste’s first independent newspaper The Timor Post, says despite the region’s history, Indonesia remains an important influence.
“Most Timorese I know now look to Indonesia for support in all sorts of matters including training.
“Every second thatched roof I see travelling through remote Timor watches Western movies with Bahasa sub-titles from the Indonesian networks.”
Howarth says a film like A Guerra da Beatriz would be effective in informing Indonesians of the atrocities of their regime.
“Every household, every family has a great story to tell during the struggle under Indonesian rule.
“It’s important their neighbours Indonesia know too.
“Most good Indonesians have no idea of the horrors that the Timorese endured from 1975-1999.”
While Timor-Leste’s violent past and “sheer poverty and lack of expertise” would have prevented this type of film-making in the past, Leadbeater and Howarth both say there is no reason why this film couldn’t kick-start a film industry in the region.
Continuing at “one increment at a time”, A Guerra da Beatriz is on track for completion by February next year – if funding is secured.
Acquisto says there has already been unsolicited interest from major film festivals, as well as locally.
“It’s a really important Timor story.
“It will show Timor people what happened in their own country.
“The film itself can be part of the process of nation-building, democracy and bring unity to its people.”
Cassandra Mason is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.