Macquarie University
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The audiovisual documentation of crimes of political violence in Timor-Leste

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posted on 2022-03-28, 01:31 authored by Andrew Sully
The Audiovisual Documentation of Crimes of Political Violence in Timor-Leste is a research-driven interdisciplinary work that aims, through documentary filmmaking and critical writing, to develop methods for representing the relationship between the past and the present in Timor-Leste. An estimated 204,000 East Timorese died during Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of Timor-Leste (Staveteig 2007). Since its independence in 2002, the need to remember victims of the occupation has been expressed in a range of commemorative rituals and memorialisation practices. Moreover, survivor and witness testimony has become central to transitional justice processes, forensic investigations and documentary filmmaking. Despite the impression of a consistent collective narrative, remembrance of the occupation and the resistance is dynamic and complex. A close examination reveals that unfulfilled expectations, shifting allegiances and political priorities have informed both personal testimony and public commemoration. Michael Leach (2008) has observed these ‘fault lines’ in Timor-Leste’s official historiography, and Lia Kent (2011) has discussed the tensions between local and state-orchestrated commemoration. Damien Grenfell (2012) has pointed out how remembering the dead reveals an intricate interplay between modern, customary and traditional epistemologies. These writers present a nuanced understanding of remembrance. However, documentary filmmaking about Timor-Leste has rarely addressed this complexity. The written exegesis explores the challenges and benefits of developing alternative documentary approaches to represent the occupation and its legacy in the present day. It reflects on 15 years of filmmaking in Timor-Leste, beginning with a documentary about the formation of this new nation, East Timor – Birth of a Nation: Luolo’s Story (2002). This work was followed up with a film about an international forensic investigation of the infamous1991 Santa Cruz massacre, Anatomy of a Massacre (2010). Both films are revisited in the light of theoretical and community concerns. Grounded in Timorese perspectives, I address debates about evidence, testimony and memory, and examine how these views informed the making of The Spirits of Tasi Tolu (2016), the documentary that forms part of this thesis. I conclude by arguing for a reflexive, expressive and consultative documentary filmmaking approach that is able to balance divergent understandings of place, death and time.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Witness testimony and documentary filmmaking in Timor-Leste -- Chapter 3. Space, occupation, memory -- Chapter 4. Staging embodied memories of political violence -- Chapter 5. The spirits of Tasi Tolu – case study -- Conclusion -- Appendices -- References -- Filmography.


Bibliography: pages 163-179 Theoretical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Kathryn Millard

Additional Supervisor 1

Mare̋e Delofski


Copyright Andrew Sully 2016. Copyright disclaimer:






1 online resource (viii, 179 pages)

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