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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



BALIBO with Robert Connolly!

JOIN US!!! A unique one-on-one interview with director Robert Connolly of the sensational and controversial Australian film BALIBO (2009). 


I first met Robert Connolly in Palm Springs at the 2010 PSIFF where I saw his spine-tingling stunning film Balibo (2009). This film tells the story of five Australian journalists who went missing while recording the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975. Foreign Correspondent Roger East (played by Anthony LaPaglia) goes on a search with native future East Timor president Jose Ramos- Horta (Oscar Isaac) to search for the missing journalists. Although both characters are at odds throughout the film, each serving their own nationalistic interests, the two become friends in a landscape of war. Balibo is a 'political thriller' giving voice to a story that has remained untold for 35 years.


ME: Robert, I loved your film, as you know. It was hands down my favorite out of the 30+ films I viewed at the PSIFF. Can you tell us about your journey making this film?

ROBERT: Well, Balibo was filmed entirely in East Timor which was exciting because it was on UN ground. I have to say that filming on the location of your story holds a certain magic to it. It had a visceral and authentic quality about the experience. Further, Balibo was the first film ever to be made in East Timor.

ME: And you said that it took you seven years to make the film?

ROBERT: Yes! Balibo was a seven year journey from start to finish. I always like to say that this was the film that didn’t want to be made. Balibo was indeed a labor of love.

ME: But indeed it was made and has been received all over the world with praise! And of course it is a controversial story about these five journalists it is also a universal story that anyone anywhere can relate to.

ROBERT: Yes, we were recently in official competition in Munich and I’ve just come back from Israel as it has just been picked up for distribution there. I think because it’s a film that gets under people’s skin.

ME : Can you tell us how it was filmed? Digital? Film?

ROBERT: We filmed almost the whole film in 16mm. Originally we thought to film in digital but the 16mm gave it an aged journalistic quality that was relevant to the story. Plus, we were also able to integrate actual footage shot by the journalists in 1975.

ME: You said that you filmed the massacre scene of the journalists at the actual house where the five journalists were killed. What must that have been like? And were there any traces of the tragic event that had taken place there 35 years ago?

ROBERT: Well, yes, there are bullet holes in the walls and the Australian Army had recently found a painting of the Aussie flag made by the journalists in 1975 under some paint on the walls. It was indeed very moving to be filming there in the actual house where these tragic events took place.

ME: There is a debate in the film between Roger and Jose that touches on one of the issues of controversy in the film- that while 200,000 Timoris were murdered, no one outside East Timor seemed to care; however, the fact that five white Australian journalists were massacred, it became worldwide outcry. How do you address this in your film?

ROBERT: Well, both characters, Roger and Jose, are defending their own national self-interest, naturally. But there is a dialogue between the two within the film where they fight over this same issue. Roger will do anything to find the missing journalists while Jose will do anything to defend more of his countrymen from dying. And of course Jose is incensed by the fact that Australia seems to not care so much about the invasion of East Timor while they scream for the bodies of their five dead journalists. There is the debate that had there not been this outcry from Australians and all the press revolving around the situation of East Timor because of the executed five journalists perhaps Australia would have turned a blind eye altogether and East Timor would never have become independent. So, if not for all the press, perhaps East Timor would have stayed under Indonesian rule. That is a popular idea anyway. 

ME: No doubt this is a controversial film. You said it has been banned in Indonesia?

ROBERT: Right now Balibo is banned in Indonesia and this ban is presently being disputed by the Indonesian Journalist Association in courts.

ME: Incredible! You must be very proud of your work! And you are just getting ready to see it released in theaters in USA and UK!

ROBERT: Yes. I am now putting on the final touches for U.S. and UK distribution and will arrive in theaters in both countries shortly.

ME: Can you share with us what you will be working on next? You have been busy opening up your new production company!

ROBERT:  Yes, actor Eric Bana and I have just moved into a new office in Melbourne and I am looking to produce some new films as well as broader interests with New Media including sphere games, short form content and even a computer game partially inspired by Balibo. As for film, at the moment I am developing my next film projects. I’ve just been brought on to direct Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge which is scheduled for next year.

ME: Fantastic, Rob! Thank you for this interview and for Balibo! You are one of the busiest and far- seeing directors I know and yet you remain ever so cool and collected. I hope huge success for you and all of your endeavors, present and future ones. To Melbourne! :-)

Check out Robert’s Balibo site here:

view film trailer here:



picture of the 5 journalists who were massacred at Balibo.

director Robert Connolly







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