East Timor: Birth of a Nation


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2002, 2 x 55 Minutes

In 1975, after 460 years of Portuguese rule, Fretilin, the revolutionary front for an independent East Timor, declared independence for the small nation. Ten days later Indonesia invaded. Fretilin, and the resistance army Falintil, fought the Indonesian military for the next 24 years. A third of the population - over 250,000 people - died as a result of the occupation.

In 1999, Indonesia agreed to a United Nations supervised referendum and the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. The Indonesian army and the local militia it had created withdrew, burning, looting and killing, razing the country to the ground.

East Timor-Birth of a Nation looks at how a country is born, literally from the ashes, and how the East Timorese people are now working to build a future. Each program in this two-part series tells the powerful personal story of a remarkably resilient individual. In examining their experiences, the series explores the complex issues and difficult decisions that are involved in reconciling the past and creating a truly independent nation.


Rosa's Story Rosa Martins was born in East Timor in 1974, the year before Indonesia invaded. Her father, a Fretilin delegate, was killed by Indonesian soldiers in 1978. Her mother died of starvation. Of eight siblings, only Rosa and her younger brother survived the occupation.
Rosa, a widow, was alone and pregnant when militia violence escalated in September 1999. She fled with her three sons to the United Nations compound in Dili and was later evacuated to Australia, where her youngest boy was born. Her two daughters, however, were still in East Timor. In desperation, she had sent them to an orphanage years earlier and, during the violence, they fled to the mountains with the nuns. When Rosa returned to Dili eight months later, she was relieved to discover her girls were still alive but devastated to find that she had lost her few possessions.
Rosa now lives with her three smallest children on a hill overlooking the capital, in a shack she has built from donated wood and tin sheeting. She earns a little money running a stall at a local high school but with so few resources she has been forced to send her eldest son to another orphanage. After 18 months, she has finally saved enough for the bus fare to visit the two distant institutions, where she and all her children will come together for the first time.
Although Rosa hopes one day to reunite her family, at the moment she is too poor and her home too tiny and derelict. But Rosa is determined to give her children a good education and the opportunities denied her by war and poverty.
This is the story of a proud and intelligent woman who is moving forward, exorcising the past and creating new chances for her family.

Lu Olo's Story For more than 20 years, Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres was a guerilla fighter in the East Timorese struggle against Indonesian occupation. He is one of only a handful of Falintil commanders who was never captured by the enemy and the only original member of Fretilin to have survived in East Timor. Now, he has left the military to take up the position of President of Fretilin, the political party that led the resistance.
Lu Olo’s wife, a fellow soldier, died during a battle in the early 1980s. His family wants him to find a new partner but Lu Olo is intent on rebuilding his country before he starts rebuilding his life.
For a long time, his family assumed he was dead. It’s a similar story for thousands of others who have returned from hiding places in the mountains to find themselves regarded as ghosts in the land of the living.
Lu Olo faces imposing new hurdles as he makes the transition from warrior to politician in the lead-up to East Timor’s first national democratic election. It’s a process that has ignited some old tensions, particularly with Xavier do Amaral, Fretilin’s founding president and now leader of the opposing Social Democratic Party of East Timor.
The campaign trail takes Lu Olo across the country and brings him in contact once more with friends who helped while he was in hiding and relatives who were imprisoned or tortured during the war because of their connection to him. Even now, there are rumours of a kidnap attempt against the Fretilin leader.
Yet the passage to the election is remarkably free of violence. Although Fretilin wins by a comfortable majority, it needs votes from other parties to pass the constitution. Old rivals become allies of sorts as Xavier is elected vice president and Lu Olo becomes president of the Assembly. Together, they will guide the country towards its first presidential elections after which the United Nations will officially hand over power to the parliament and East Timor will finally achieve full independence.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Abracadabra Film and Television Productions. Developed with the assistance of Film Victoria. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

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Directors: Luigi Acquisto, Andrew Sully

Narrator: Cate Blanchett

Year: 2002

Running Time: 2 X 55 minute episodes

Classification: PG. Consumer Advice: Adult themes, low level coarse language.


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