South China Morning Post
Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Anger and accolades for Timor exposé
Clarence Tsui

Minutes after James Leong and Lynn Lee arrived in
Jakarta to present their documentary on East Timor,
Passabe, at a film festival, they were told it had
been struck off the programme.

Given the subject, it is easy to understand why the
Indonesian authorities were concerned.

The documentary focuses on the hearings of East
Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth and
Reconciliation concerning Passabe, a hamlet in the
Oecussi enclave where residents – many of whom were
members of the local pro-Indonesia militia – killed 74
men from neighbouring pro-independence villages after
East Timor voted to become independent in September

The hearings, sponsored by the United Nations to heal
the country’s wounds after the period of instability
at the end of the 1990s, were never intended to punish
the perpetratrors of the serious crimes such as murder
or rape, say the filmmakers, who were invited by the
UN to cover the proceedings.

The hearings turned “quite explosive” when a villager
confessed to killing a man.

Passabe chronicles the horrors, featuring chilling
testimonies from both the perpetrators and the
victims. The filmmakers were taken to the killing
fields where the villagers were allegedly tortured and
massacred. But the film also attempts to illustrate
the uncertain future for the country. Lee says its
problems have dropped “off the radar” as the world
zeroes in on the strife in the Middle East.

“Everybody [in the villages] is sick and tired of
fighting, but there is a simmering resentment there,”
says Lee. “There’s a lot of deep sadness because
there’s a sense that justice may never happen.”

This was partly because of the difficulty in getting
hold of many of the militia leaders who escaped to
Indonesian-held West Timor and punish them.

While the film was not allowed to be shown in
Indonesia, it has received glowing reviews at the
festivals where it did run.

When shown in Singapore, Indonesian students were
among those who praised it the most, Leong said. The
Sundance Institute Documentary Fund also backed the
film with a grant.

What excited Leong and Lee, however, was the February
screenings in East Timor. High water levels however,
prevented them from taking the film back to its
subject village, Passabe.

The acclaim the film received has been a relief for
the first-time filmmakers, who have worked in
television production. Lee studied law but went into
media work, while Leong harks from a film-making
family: his father, the British-born director Leong
Po-chih, was part of Hong Kong’s new wave in the late
1970s with output such as Jumping Ash.

Leong Snr – who was listed as post-production
consultant on the film’s credits – had been “generous”
in providing advice, said the son. His father
suggested injecting Passabe with “cinematic” touches,
which helped greatly.

Visuals aside, Passabe works because of Lee and
Leong’s success in getting close to the subject,
including spending almost a year living in the

Passabe is screening on Friday at 3pm, at the Agnes b.
Cinema, Hong Kong Arts Centre.