Review by Maya Borom
Alias Ruby Blade | Alex Meiller
Alex Meillier’s documentary Alias Ruby Blade is as much a love story about two people – Kirsty Sword and Xanana Gusmao – as it is about their love for Timor-Leste and the country’s struggle for independence in the face of Indonesian occupation and oppression.
Activist, filmmaker and First Lady of Timor-Leste, Kirsty Sword Gusmao, first went to the country in 1990 when it was under Indonesian control and communications in and out of the country was tightly controlled. It was to be a visit that altered the path of not only herself, but arguably that of Timor-Leste itself. Despite the strict conditions prohibiting contact with foreigners, Kirsty was smuggled photographs and letters about the resistance fighters the Falintil (The Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor) and came across images of leader Xanana Gusmao. So began Kirsty’s work to help liberate the country and to make the international community aware of the struggle of the people against Indonesian brutality and torture.
Returning to the country under the guise of setting up adventure tourism ventures, Kirsty and a group of filmmakers including Max Stahl were able to interview key activists and film a peaceful protest calling for independence and showing support for Xanana. Unbeknownst to the Indonesian authorities, Kirsty and her team were able to capture first hand video footage of Indonesian military firing live rounds into the crowd and killing and wounding many. The footage was picked up by the international media who condemned Indonesia’s actions and whom sparked a global interest in this small country struggling quietly for independence.
Interspersed with interviews with Stahl and Kirsty about the shootings, Meillier is able to provide a contrasting viewpoint to the officially sanctioned Indonesian one which was based on an argument of self-defence. The use of footage from within Timor-Leste during this time period thus becomes an invaluable source of evidence for human rights abuse for both the international community but also for the local Timorese in that there is an alternative “truth” to that of the “official” version of events.
The eventual capture of resistance leader Xanana and his subsequent jail sentence did not mean that the resistance to Indonesian rule ceased for each initiative still required approval and sign off by Xanana himself. It was here, as courier, that Kirsty became a crucial player in the struggle for Timor-Leste’s future independence. It was also here, acting in her role as liaison between the outside resistance and Xanana that Kirsty (now operating under the alias of Ruby Blade) developed a deep bond with the leader and it was here that the first whispers of love occurred. Meillier is able to use intimate home video and prison video footage of them both to illustrate the growing relationship between them at a time when it was dangerous to even hint at a liaison.
The documentary Alias Ruby Blade is essential viewing for those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the major players of the resistance in the lead up to Timor-Leste’s freedom from Indonesian rule. It provides a glimpse behind the public facade of Xanana Gusmao and shines a light on how he rose to Prime Ministerial office. It also tells the story of how one Australian women’s dedication to change and human rights forever altered the history of a country and it’s people.