Thursday, August 17, 2006

[Cine.SG] Passabe

Already we've seen a bumber crop of local movies hit the screens this year, and it's rare to have a documentary or two as part of the offerings. To start off Cine.SG's 2nd slate of local movies, Passabe, the James Leong and Lynn Lee documentary about Timor Leste in its run up to independence, gets its extended run at The National Museum's Gallery Theatre.

You've probably read about the struggles of Timor Leste during its referendum for independence from Indonesia, and the massacres that accompanied during the period of time where militants belonging to the anti-independence camp went on a rampage on pro-independence folks.

Like I mentioned in one of the earlier reviews, one thing about movies is its ability to transport you to places you hear about, but haven't seen. Here, we get the opportunity to visit Passabe, and its neighbouring villages, and hear from the victims, their families, and even the perpetrators, as they seeked towards a session of healing.

Like all gangs, the mob mentality is especially strong when the group is together, spurred by acts of violence and a sense of invulnerability. However, when singled out one by one, each individual might turn out to be an ordinary sane person, without much of the bravado. And when the time comes to admit to the atrocities, as part of the condition for forgiveness and moving on, these individual still claim ignorance and innocence to their ill-contribution. Save one man, Alexio Elu, who stepped forth and proclaimed that he, and the others, were guilty of their misdeeds, and he made his confession even in the face of criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity.

While it is easy to condemn him for such crimes, you can't help by admire his bravery in admittance, his realization that what he did was very wrong, and his willingness to be punished for such crimes. But this documentary is not all about Alexio, as we take both a micro and macro look at the entire issue, and the culture and traditions rarely seen on film.

Banned in Indonesia (2 hours before screening it a film festival in Jakarta), Passabe was made with a support from the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund grant. It is an interesting documentary about a difficult time for a fledging nation. Clocking in at almost 2 hours, it is probably a must-see for those interested in regional affairs, or even for those who are curious at the ability of how local filmmakers are capable in making a world class riveting documentary.

After the screening, James Leong and Lynn Lee were present for a Q&A session. They had just flew in from Hong Kong, where they are shooting another documentary. Here's an excerpt of some of the discussion (again, any inaccuracies are my fault alone in transcribing):

Q: How did you get to make this movie?
A: We were invited by the UN in 2004, which was 5 years after the violence. It was interesting to observe a westerned styled hearing coupled by eastern rituals, until we found the story of Alexio, who actually admitted to the atrocities, and we were fascinated. We went to Passabe to meet him, which was a remote village strong in traditions.

Q: What happened since the making of the movie?
A: We had actually wanted to go back in Jan 06 to show the movie in Passabe, but didn't make it there. We don't know if the villages have made peace, but we know that the violence had stopped.

Q: What were the challenges in making the movie, and how large is the crew?
A: It's 2 crew (James + Lynn) + a translator. Passabe is hard to get to, first a ferry ride from Dili, then you've got to hitch a ride, before crossing a river. There's no electricity and running water, and we've got to truck out supplies. We survived on rice and tinned tuna for weeks, and perfected the "one bottle mineral water shower".

The people spoke a dialect, and we've got to get our translator schooled for 6 months to learn it. Even then, the dialect spoken by the priests are different, but luckily our translator's father spoke that dialect.

There were also ethical issues in the making of this film, as we had confessions of a murderer, so there was a battling of dilemmas - how much did you allow a man to incriminate himself?

Q: How long did you take to make the movie?
A: We took 8 months to a year filming, and then one year to edit it.

Q: Was the film meant for mass distribution?
A: We didn't think much about distribution when we first started, otherwise it might not have been made if we waited for funding. We did ask a few TV documentary channels though.

Q: What were the reactions in film festivals?
A: In Germany they can identify with the reconciliation and forgiveness, as they too had a violent past. The French were a big, tough crowd, but overall in general the response was good.

Passabe is screened as part of Cine.SG, and runs from Aug 17-20, 24-27 1930hrs at The National Museum Gallery Theatre, and from Aug 19-20, 26-27 1515hrs at Cathay Cineplex Orchard.

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