Subject: IPS: Filmmaker Max Stahl Wants to Drive Away Past Devils

MEDIA-EAST TIMOR: Filmmaker Wants to Drive Away Past Devils

Sonny Inbaraj

DARWIN, Australia, Jul 8 (IPS) - Documentary filmmaker and cameraman Max Stahl -- whose images of the 1991 Dili massacre in East Timor moved the world into taking action against Indonesia -- is back in the fledgling nation to help the East Timorese deal with their past violent history and pave the way for healing and reconciliation.

''How do we keep the past alive without becoming its prisoner? How do we forget it without risking its repetition in the future?'' asks Stahl, quoting from renowned Chilean novelist and human rights activist Ariel Dorfman.

Stahl grew up in Chile and is the son of a former British ambassador to El Salvador. For that reason he relates well to Dorfman.

To rid the devils in order to focus on the future in East Timor seems to be Stahl's vocation these days.

He has decided to pioneer a media development project, funded by the Finnish and German governments, to use previously unedited video footage of the Dili massacre to initiate discussion among the East Timorese with the help of local journalists and community radio stations.

''This is a popular history that belongs to the people of East Timor,'' Stahl tells IPS in an interview.

''And the people of Timor have a different perspective -- they understand much more from a different point of view about what was happening and why it was happening,'' he points out.

''Nowhere have I seen greater care, greater respect, greater love for the dead than in East Timor. They grieve for the people they love who die, not less than the people in the West, but more.''

The Dili massacre was the shooting of East Timorese protesters by Indonesian troops in the Santa Cruz cemetery in the capital, Dili, on Nov. 12, 1991. Of the people demonstrating in the cemetery, 271 were killed, 382 wounded and 250 disappeared.

The protesters, mainly students, launched their protest against Indonesian rule at the funeral of a fellow student who had been shot dead by Indonesian soldiers the month before.

The massacre was witnessed by U.S. journalists, and caught on videotape by Stahl, who was filming undercover for 'Yorkshire Television' in Britain.

Stahl's video images of the shootings were shown worldwide, causing the Indonesian government considerable embarrassment.

Now commemorated as a public holiday in an independent East Timor, Nov. 12 is remembered by the East Timorese as one of their bloodiest days, one that gained international attention to their fight for independence.

''There are still questions to be answered about the massacre. For instance, what has happened to the people who went missing? Has any follow-up been done to see how the families of the dead are coping?'' asks Stahl.

Stahl has more than 50 hours of unedited footage of events leading to the massacre and that will form the basis of the dialogue he hopes to start.

''We will use it to tell stories about what happened then and what's happened since - about other people who were behind the camera or in the scene at the same places. And these stories will be told by the people themselves,'' he explains.

''Hopefully this will become the foundation of a cultural dialogue which goes back to the roots of the struggle, to the culture of the past and also forward to the new vision of what East Timor should be and can be,'' adds Stahl.

The award-winning filmmaker aims to engage local journalists and community radio stations to initiate that debate.

''We will be working with local journalists and broadcasters. They will be very important in getting the stories out,'' says Stahl.

''But these stories are not simply stories for news but stories which go into the whole area that lies around, behind and beyond the news. And the East Timorese people will play a big part in that process,'' he stresses.

East Timor became independent on May 20, 2002 after a two-year period of administration by the United Nations.

For 25 years, East Timor was occupied by Indonesia. The Timorese in a United Nations-sponsored referendum opted for independence in late August 1999. But when the ballot results were announced in September 1999, Indonesian military-sponsored militias went on an orgy of terror and razed Dili to the ground.

In 2000, Stahl won the premier award for freelance cameramen, the Rory Peck Award, for his 1999 footage of East Timorese escaping Indonesian troops, in Dili, and making the way up the hills behind the capital.

His 'In Cold Blood', about the Dili massacre, won the Amnesty International Press Award in 1992. He also has won one gold New York Film Festival Award and the British Royal Television Society Award for best feature documentary in 1993.

''Respect for those I am filming certainly inspires my work,'' he says.

''The real story for me was never the headline. The story was always the values that ordinary people were struggling with and struggling for,'' explains Stahl.

Stahl says he is a great admirer of courageous people and their courage makes him feel humble.

''To me the heroes of East Timor are the heroes of many other struggles. They are people at the grassroots -- people who had to make tremendously dramatic choices involving their own life and death, including decisions they had to make to sacrifice everything most dear to themselves.''

The British cameraman and filmmaker is optimistic and hopeful for the world's newest nation: ''The new East Timor is full of hope. There is a positive life force here. Hope is in the children and the hope you offer is in the eyes of the people you film..'' (END/2004)

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