“It was the courage of the Timorese that inspired me to have courage. That is what
has driven me throughout my journey and that is what continues to inspire me
– Kirsty Sword Gusmão
If you are wondering what we all did before twitter and blogging when trying to effect change, and if you thought the main driver of the Arab Spring was social media think again.
Social media is a sign of the times, and a tool rather than a hero in itself. Revolution is driven by passionate, organised and connected people and is an enduring part of our human history and this story, mixing archive documentary footage with well spliced present day interviews, is testament to that.
Alias Ruby Blade brings a first hand account of the struggle of Independence of Timor-Leste as seen through the eyes of Kirsty Sword Gusmão, human rights activist and former First Lady of Timor-Leste.
While biographic, Alias Ruby Blade, is also the complex tale of the struggle for independence of this former Portugese colony, taken over by Indonesia. By 1975, over 200,000 had been killed as a result of the struggles. After 17 years of occupation and violence, Timorese people helped by students, campaigners and activists like Kirsty, got the story out from in the field, on the ground, into the open and onto tv screens around the world.
There are many dramatic scenes in the documentary, so it doesn’t make for comfortable viewing but it’s compelling with various twists and turns over the decade or so it takes place. Ultimately, it is a tale of hope and triumph over adversity and not just for the Timorese. The protagonist Kirsty and resistance leader, Xanana Gusmão, eventually meet after eight years of multimedia correspondence, having fallen in love through the proxy of their campaigning. Xanana, courted Kirsty by sending Bonsai plants he cultivated in prison, tropical fish and portraits. He became the first President of East Timor, with Kirsty beside him as his wife.
I’d quite like to learn more about Xanana, or as he is now known, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, His Excellency Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão. Not bad going for an imprisoned non-violent guerilla fighter and poet. I’m not sure I’d like to see this story involved into a glossy Hollywood production, so let’s hope this documentary gets a wider audience and more showings.
Human Rights Watch Film Festival is on currently in London, more details here:
Documentary, HD Cam, 2012, 78 minutes
Director: Alex Meillier
Producer: Tanya Ager Meillier
Kirsty Sword Gusmao aspired to be a filmmaker and instead became a revolutionary. Whilst working for the Timorese resistance she fell in love with the imprisoned guerilla leader, and risked everything. Together they fostered the birth of a new nation.
STYLE & APPROACH
Kirsty began filming the key events of her life on Hi-8 video tape from her first visit to East Timor in 1990. Her archive also contains the video “letters” between her and Xanana and tape from her time as an operative in Jakarta all the way up to her return with Xanana to the country devastated by the 1999 violence. Much of this video footage has never been seen before.
In addition to Kirsty’s hi-8 footage composing the flashback sequences and our HD footage of the present day, special scenes have been shot on 16mm color reversal film stock meant to portray the story of Kirsty’s alter ego Ruby Blade.
These cinematic sequences are woven seamlessly in to the arc in the story, shot from angles designed never to reveal Kirsty’s face, and to heighten the suspense, all in frenetic close-ups. We see glimpses of this footage starting from Kirsty’s first visit to East Timor in 1990 and this film-within-a-film climaxes when Kirsty’s identity is revealed and she is forced to flee the country for fear of the Indonesian Secret Police in 1996. Kirsty herself is the primary narrator of Alias Ruby Blade. As her personal story
evolves throughout the film, other characters are introduced in meticulously researched archival material and add their voices to the story, telling what they themselves witnessed and experienced. Amongst a host of the key actors in the resistance struggle both International and Timorese, the current President of TimorLeste, Nobel Laureate José Ramos-Horta appears in a surprisingly candid two-part interview.
Through their collective voices, we learn how the struggle for independence transformed from an armed struggle into an international movement that used the media, diplomacy, non-violent action and the language of human rights to fight for Independence – a lesson that is more relevant than ever before in the world today.
Tim Sparke, Mercury Media; MEDIA Programme of the EU; MGB 26
Phone: + 44 7801520991