Voices from East Timor's grassroots

Issue 

REVIEW BY JON LAND

Emails from East Timor
Documentary by Peter Marra
Written and narrated by Dave Owens
Handwoven Productions
Order from <handwoven@xtra.co.nz>

Emails from East Timor is one of a number of new films and books that look at East Timor's transition to independence and the many hurdles that this new country faces.

What makes this film unique is that it is presented from the East Timorese people's perspective, and gives voice to the grassroots volunteers working with various aid and non-government organisations.

New Zealander Dave Owens, the film's narrator, spent four months in East Timor as a volunteer. He comments on the determination of the East Timorese people to start anew following the enormous destruction wrought by the Indonesian military and its militia gangs in 1999. Interviews with East Timorese detail not only the horror of the post-referendum massacres, but also the stifling repression of the 24-year Indonesian occupation.

The practical problems aid workers and volunteers working with East Timorese daily face are thoughtfully explored. In particular, Emails from East Timor highlights the failings of the United Nations and the big international aid agencies' development programs.

Despite "consultations" with East Timorese organisations, much of the aid money has been channelled to the big foreign outfits, a consequence of decisions made in UN offices in New York or by economists and "advisers" from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Emails from East Timor was one of the featured documentaries at the Wellington Film Festival, which followed its premier at the East Timor Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, held in the week of East Timor's May 20 independence celebrations. An estimated 50,000 people packed Dili's soccer stadium to watch films about their country's turbulent past.

Emails from East Timor is an insightful documentary. It is a valuable contribution to understanding the social, economic and political dynamics at play in East Timor today.

From Green Left Weekly, July 10, 2002.
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