It is set in East Timor at the time of independence and traces the tragic demise of the journalists sent there to cover the story.
After being a Portuguese colony for many years East Timor was granted independence in November 1975, however this was followed by an Indonesian invasion in December of that year and subsequently much bloodshed under Indonesian rule.
The ‘Balibo 5’ were a group of Aussie TV journos who went to the town of Balibo to cover the story and believed they would be left alone because they didn’t pose a military threat. In the end the invading forces simply killed them, burnt their film and moved on.
The story follows the journey of Roger East – also an Aussie journo – who goes to Dili to investigate the disappearance of the men. He is shown in dialogue with the later president Jose Ramos Horte as the invading forces approach Dili. Horte is fleeing the country and calls East to join him and tell the story back in Australia. East’s response is brutal, but captured the truth of the situation. Paraphrased it was : ‘No one cares about a nation full of Timorese people getting slaughtered – that isn’t a story – but if I can uncover the truth about 5 white journalists who have been killed then it will become a story…’
Ouch… but how true. Tens of thousands of brown people getting slaughtered won’t register with viewers, but five of our own people… now that’s a different issue, isn’t it?…
After choosing to stay, East was killed by firing squad a short time later, and the whole episode has been the subject of a war crimes investigation. What was equally disturbing (according to my reading of events) was that the US and Australia by and large turned a blind eye to all that took place because it wasn’t politically expedient to get involved. The US had formulated a policy of ‘silence’ on the invasion. That coupled with fear of a potential communist state developing appears to the reason the US and Australia kept silent.
Balibo is a brutal and disturbing movie on many levels and my brief reading of the history leaves me equally disturbed.