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Land of the Morning Star.

Land of, the Morning Star has been described as the "life's work" of journalist and film-maker Mark Worth who died in West Papua last January, just two days after the announcement that his new documentary film would premiere on Australian television.


What struck me about the 55-minute documentary was its balance. In contrast to the emotive, provocative style of film-maker John Pilger, Worth presents a remarkably cool, even-handed portrayal of events. He even gives air-time to a pro-integration representative of an Indonesian political party.

Narrated by actor Rachel Griffiths, Land of the Morning Star offers a rare glimpse into the complex global politics that have shaped West Papua's fate. It chronicles varying degrees of colonization from the Malaccans to the Dutch, Japanese, Americans, Dutch again, and finally Indonesians, explaining how each regime affected the next, and Australia's increasing complicity. The film also provides a valuable update on the effects of changing governments in Jakarta and how Papuans responded.

Worth presents a rational explanation of Indonesia's claim to the region. At the same time, he is clear about the dual injustice of the Cold-War-inspired New York Agreement in 1962 and the so-called "Act of Free Choice" in 1969, when only 1,025 out of a million Papuans were selected to vote for independence openly and under Indonesian supervision. But he takes pains to avoid being one-sided, such as when he points out Papuan mistreatment of the Indonesian soldiers who parachuted into Papua in 1962, expecting to be welcomed as liberators from the Dutch.

Documenting the ignorance and misguided intentions that led to the current state of injustice, he seems to be saying--it's okay, we understand; we just want it put right. As such, the film may be more palatable to a wider range of viewers.

Worth spares us the gruesome images of torture and mutilated bodies that often appear in films about the Indonesian "provinces" such as East Timor. Instead, eye-witnesses describe the violence in calm interviews. With mostly oblique references to oppression and no mention of large-scale atrocities such as the Biak massacre, the film in my opinion downplays the severity of the situation and the brutality of the occupying forces. While this was likely intentional, my fear is that an uninformed viewer might walk away with the impression that the Indonesian invasion and occupation were unjust but relatively benign.

Worth also skips over the anthropological and ecological richness of "the last unknown," other than to say that Papua contains 250 separate languages. This is no criticism--just an observation that the film's focus is entirely different from the award-winning documentary by Vancouver-based Ian Mackenzie about the Moi people. For public screenings, the two films would be complementary, even though Mackenzie's film, Cry of the Forgotten Land is a decade old. One is an excellent historical treatment; the other an intimate depiction of the impact on the ground.

What impressed me most about Land of the Morning Star was its portrayal of the Papuans as gracious, nationalistic and politically savvy people. Worth presents them as diverse in views and customs, yet sharing a common cause and intuitive understanding of the politics impacting their world. In this sense, he offers a hopeful vision of what might be, and at the same time acknowledges the stubborn forces that continue to thwart self-determination.

Mark Worth's film leads us to ask questions about what can now be done to move toward a peaceful solution that respects the Papuans' ultimate quest for full autonomy. It suggests no answers. Surprisingly, this is one of its strengths, a fitting legacy for a man committed to a conciliatory and peaceful resolution of the tragedy that continues in West Papua.

Land of the Morning Star by Mark Worth, 55 minutes, 2004. Produced by Film Australia, with assistance from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and available for rent from PPP.
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Author:Benedetti, Tom
Publication:Tok Blong Pacifik
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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