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July 2009

Last week we had a showing of Rob Lemelson's film, 40 Years of Silence. Amongst the comments that I got from members of the audience, the word 'disturbing' came up most often. This is a very powerful film, and to my mind works more effectively than the overview films such as Shadow Play or Terlena. I saw the latter at a conference in Cambridge earlier in the year, and it suffers from a lack of good editing, and a too-strident message, although it has some excellent material--most memorably an interview with someone who dug the graves for those executed on one of the beaches at Jembrana, West Bali.

There are a couple of things that set 40 Years of Silence apart. The production values are very high, and the personal approach of the film gives it a greater impact. It basically follows the experiences of four families as they live through the legacy of the Indonesian killings, and what is particularly disturbing is the fact that there is on-going victimisation of those with 'PKI' associations, as with the case of the young man, Budi, whose family were beaten up and their house burnt down when they tried to move into an area that had been a site of conflict in the post-1965 period.

As a documentary, I think the level and tone of the film are right. Some people have commented to me that it is too 'commercial', in the sense that it has some of the production values and ways of narrating found in films for TV distribution, others have criticised the film for being too academic, in that there is a lot of background material and a lot of complex material in it. You can't please everybody (and nor should you try), but I think it strikes the right balance. I'm not sure that Rob should have put himself in as a 'talking head' for some of the background material, I can see that he needed to do this to fill in some gaps, but I would have favoured doing this as voice-over. Some of the commentary of the other talking heads may be subject to challenge, but having John Roosa, Geoffrey Robinson and Baskara Wardoyo as these commentators works well. Perhaps there could have been an 'alternative' political view from a more anti-communist commentator, but then that would have taken the film in a different direction and complicated the message.

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The bomb attacks in Jakarta yesterday were directed at the Indonesian state. Just at the point where Indonesia was showing the world that it was getting along ok, economically as well as politically, its enemies within have chosen a new target, the business community, and especially foreign investment. Tragically, this attack has killed and maimed Indonesians, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and others alike. The stories of the victims and their families are extremely upsetting, and show that the psychopaths who launched these attacks have lost any sense of humanity.

As with the earlier attacks, trying to unravel 'what happened' remains a problem, and the lack of satisfactory action against those responsible for earlier terrorist activities shows that the door remains open for further attacks. The big question is 'who?' The immediate actors are most likely to be suicide bombers probably motivated by a desire to destabilise the Indonesian state and replace it with a transnational Caliphate. They are also probably associate with Noordin Md. Top, the Malaysian bomber responsible for earlier attacks, although he seems now to be operating a small independent terror cell, rather than being a member of the larger body JI. But why is it that Top has remained free for so long, and that the bombers were able to get past heavy security in two hotels to stage a large attack? Could it be that BIN, the Indonesian security body, is either incompetent, or involved?

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