A few days ago, I received an email from JIFFest committee members which states that the Australian film Balibo is not allowed to be screened in Indonesia by the censorship board. The film was initially planned to be screened in the 11th Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFest) 2009. And I already bought the ticket for the screening of the film on December 6, two weeks earlier.

The Indonesian government may prohibit the film being screened here as it may be deemed “offensive”. The Indonesian military spokesperson said the screening of the film here would only jeopardize relations between Indonesia and Australia. But there is yet an official written notification stating the reasons of cancellation from the censorship board.

The film tells us the story about a group of journalists who were killed whilst reporting on activities prior to the Indonesian incursions of, then, Portuguese Timor in 1975. The group composed of two Australians, a New Zealander, and two British. The film is loosely based on Jill Jolliffe’s book Cover Up, an Australian journalist who saw the first incursions of the military into the Balibo territory and reported the death of her five colleagues.

“1975. Prior to Indonesia’s invasion to East Timor, five Australian based journalists go missing. Four weeks later, veteran journalist Roger East (Anthony LaPaglia) is lured to East Timor by the young and charismatic José Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) to tell the story of his country and investigate the fate of the missing men. As the threat of invasion intensifies, an unlikely friendship develops between the last foreign correspondent in East Timor and the man who would become President.”

Indonesia became the former Portuguese colony’s ruler for 24 years until 1999. And after decades of rebellion and bloodshed, East Timor is recognized as a new sovereign state on 2002. But, the deaths of those journalists remain an irritant in Indonesia-Australia relations. I try not to dwell on politicize this issue, since the Indonesian and Australian governments had concluded that the journalists were accidentally killed in the crossfire and considered the case closed. It was well understood by the two countries at that particular time.

Although the JIFFest committee had replaced Balibo with another film and that audience who had already bought tickets could watch the replacement screening or claim a refund, it was very unfortunate. Because I believe there are two sides of a story, whether you don’t agree with or it is controversial or bias, in order for us to learn another’s point of view. Therefore, to ban the film is not necessary since the issue is already resolved.


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