ANSWERED BY FIRE
Australia, 2006, 170 minutes, Colour.
David Wenham, Alex Tillman, Fatima Almeida, Isabelle Blais, Damien Garvey, Fivo Freitas, Patrick Williams, Afonso Corte, Felisberto Araujo, Jose da Costa, Ron White, Linda Cropper, Tara Morice, Ines Araujo.
Directed by Jessica Hobbs.
East Timor, Timor- Leste, was a Portuguese colony, the island of Timor then taken over by Indonesia. There were uprising in the 1970s. Australia’s involvement, captured in the film Balibo, was the execution of several Australian journalists. However, there were difficult intense relationships between Australia and Indonesia in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st century, especially about ocean resources.
This television miniseries shows the move towards independence. This was achieved in 2000.
The first part of the film shows the United Nation’s mission to the country, with staff from Australia as well as from Canada. The group is led by David Wenham, supported by Damien Garvey, with Isabelle Blais as the member from Canada. It highlights the pressures on the United Nations group, the acts of sabotage by pro-Indonesia sympathisers, the commitment of independence leaders. Despite harassment and violence, a sufficient number of people came to the ballot polls to vote.
The second part of the film shows the aftermath of the vote, the pressures for independence, the rounding up of those who committed violent acts during the initial preparation for the vote, the moving of persecuted people out of Timor.
While the film gives some background to the Australians and the Canadians and their life at home, the commitment in going to missions, the effect on families, there are many central characters who play Timorese activists with the pressures on them for the achievement of independence.
The film was directed by Jessica Hobbs, prolific in Australian and British television and with the television film about the Australian Prime Minister, Curtin.
1. A story that was very topical at the time of the making? A look back at recent history in Timor Leste? The Indonesian occupation? Civil strife? The United Nations and registering for voting, the vote for independence? The story now in retrospect as part of Timor Leste history?
2. The title, the Indonesian occupation, 25 years, the massacres, death and destruction? The resistance?
3. The location photography, Timor, Queensland scenery? The musical score?
4. An Australian production, Canadian partnership? Timor partnership? Local consultants?
5. Audience knowledge of Timor Leste, the occupation, 25 years of clash? The bloodied history? The background of the Portuguese colony, the island of Timor, the Indonesians, the division into Timor Leste and West Timor?
6. Timor Leste in 1999, the situation, with Indonesia? The Australian presence? The United Nations? The Australian background, in 1975 and government stances, the Australian government standing back in 1999?
7. The atmosphere of Timor Leste, the capital, Dili, the mountains, the villages, the coast? Scenery and atmosphere?
8. The move for independence? The local Independence movement, Resistance? The old man, Jorge, his speech in the church, the priest supporting him? His family and their involvement? Madalena Ismeneo? The Timorese working for the UN mission, Maria? Drivers, secretaries? Secrecy, hiding, the Resistance emerging? And the percentage of those enrolled for voting?
9. The roles of the United Nations, Australian presence, Canadian? The role, safeguarding, enrolling as many people as possible? The buildup to the vote?
10. Mark, at home, his absences, sense of duty, relationship to his wife and the tensions, to the children? Ron, friend, his background? Eagerness? The range of associates, arrival, setting up, offices, the staff?
11. The mission, for enrolment, the time limits, the headquarters and the officials, the local offices, the variety of workers, especially Maria and her being threatened?
12. The dramatisation of various incidents, the pro-Indonesian militia? The battles, the fights, within families, ismeneo and Sico and their being cousin’s? The death of Maria? The dangers for the UN mission?
13. Julie, Canadian background, her fiance, sense of duty? Strong stances, the incident with the car in the militia? Not understanding the culture, the role of men, the role of women? Dangers, her having to learn? Her concern for the people, the attraction to Ismeneo? Mark and his warning?
14. Journalists, the Australian journalist, her contacts, interviews, sending news to Australia, radio, newspapers? The role of journalists in this situation, the dangers?
15. Mark, his control, his own personal emotions, reactions to Julie and trying to teach her as well as protect her?
16. The characters of the pro-Indonesia militias, Indonesian officials?
17. The enrolments, travelling to the villages, the militias watching? The significance of the arm wrestling contest between Mark and Sico? The deal? Allowing the enrolments? Yet the vendettas after the vote?
18. The success of the enrolment? The numbers? The reaction of the UN headquarters, especially to the dangers?
19. The vote, the numbers voting, exhilaration for those in favour of independence? The percentages? The media reports?
20. The withdrawing of the UN officials, dangers, helicopters? Ismeneo and his family, the militias and their being taken? Julie and her being upset? Desperation, vehicles, refugees at the UN compound, opening the gate? The impact on Ron? The rescue of the refugees?
21. Julie, back in Canada, talking about the mission, her fiance, the effect of being in Timor Leste? The attraction to Ismeneo? The decision to go back? And her final decision to remain
22. Mark, returning home, celebrating with the family, birthdays, ordinary life? Yet the effect of the Timor Leste experience? The contrast with Ron, his memories, his conscience, his bonding with the people? Is becoming too much for him? The phone call to Mark? His suicide?
23. Mark and his decision to go back? The role of the UN in the aftermath of the Independence vote?
24. The militias, then vengeance, the massacres, Jorge and his being killed, Ismeneo, sacrificing himself, torture, Madalena? The priest and the people in the Church, the burning, the search for the bodies, the cage in the lake?
25. The way the film presented the violent horrors of the immediate aftermath?
26. The gradual peace, the role of the UN, finding Ismeneo and the others? Justice for the militias? Mark and his searching for Sico, the truth about the Indonesian officials, issues of money, betrayals, the taking of’ Sico, Mark and his emotions, taking him to be interrogated? Ismeneo present?
27. Decisions for migration and for remaining?
28. Timor Leste and its gaining independence? The effect on Indonesia? The role of Australia and the possibilities of its better commitment? The succeeding years in retrospect?