Balibo (2009)

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Released 2-Dec-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Director
Theatrical Trailer
Deleted Scenes
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Featurette-6 Documentaries
Featurette-Original News Footage
DVD-ROM Extras-Study Guide
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 106:44 (Case: 111)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:57) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Connolly

Madman Entertainment
Starring Oscar Isaac
Anthony LaPaglia
Nathan Phillips
Damon Gameau
Gyton Grantley
Simon Stone
Paul Sonkkila
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI ? Music Marcello De Francisci
Lisa Gerrard

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Unknown Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Titling (Burned In)
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart - The Balibo Five

    The period from Oct to Dec 1975 is one of the darkest times in the history of Australia. Most Australians will recall that this was the time of the dismissal of the Whitlam Government by the then Governor General, Sir John Kerr. It was also the period in which East Timor won long desired independence from the colonial rule of Portugal and then only 9 days later were invaded by Indonesia and the Timorese were then brutally oppressed for 24 years before the return to independence in 1999. In the period of Indonesian rule, somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 people lost their lives out of a starting population of 600,000. The period is dark for the history of Australia because Australia gave behind the scenes agreement to the invasion as seemingly there was concern that the Felintil movement (the group running Timor between the Portuguese leaving and the Indonesians invading) were communists. Also, during this period six Australian journalists were killed by Indonesian forces. The first five (subsequently referred to as the Balibo Five which is the name of the town where they were killed) were five young television journalists sent by their networks to cover the situation developing in East Timor. They were caught by invading Indonesian Forces and executed. Shortly afterwards another more experienced Australia journalist, Roger East, was brought into East Timor by Jose Ramos-Horta to start a free news agency in Timor. He began to investigate the disappearance of the Balibo Five but was then captured and killed in Dili when the Indonesians overran the capital in December 1975. The details of this and the Australian involvement were not fully understood until recently when the cover up was revealed by the release of secret papers from the time.

    This film is not a documentary but is the true story of the Balibo Five and Roger East. Some scenes have been slightly fictionalised but generally this is the straight facts as they occurred. The film starts with the legend 'This is a True Story' as opposed to the more usual 'This film is based on a true story'. The film is framed by some scenes of a Timorese woman telling her story (as thousands did) to interviewers after 1999 when independence was finally achieved. She recalls seeing Roger East (Anthony LaPaglia) on the day of the Indonesian takeover of Dili and subsequent massacre. The film then skips back to 1975, telling two stories in parallel that played out 6 weeks apart in reality. The first story is that of the Balibo Five and their time in East Timor. Jose Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) arranges for the journalists to be taken up towards the border between East Timor and Indonesian Timor to observe the Indonesian incursions and preparations for full scale invasion. It is here in the small town of Balibo that the journalists are captured and killed by the Indonesians. The second story is that of Roger East and his relationship with Jose Ramos-Horta. East was an experienced war correspondent who had basically retired to a job in Darwin following on from Cyclone Tracy. Here he was approached by Ramos-Horta to come with him to Timor and set up an East Timor free press agency. East is not initially that keen on going back to a war zone but the story of the five missing journalists inspires him to investigate. He goes to East Timor and starts to follow the trail of the journalists, finding evidence of their deaths. This in turn leads him into dangerous situations. When Ramos-Horta leaves the country to represent East Timor in exile, East does not heed his warnings to leave resulting in his capture and execution by the Indonesians during the capture of Dili.

    This is a excellent film, very well made on a small budget by director/co-writer Robert Connelly and a crew of less than 20. Anthony LaPaglia comments in one of the extras that his TV show has a crew of about 80 but that they get a lot less done than the crew on this film. Connelly has previously directed two other Australian feature films including The Bank. He should not be confused with Australian documentary maker, Bob Connelly (Rats in the Ranks). The other co-writer was famous playwright David Williamson. It was filmed on location in Darwin and East Timor, often in the real locations from the story. The music used is a combination of a score by Golden Globe winning (for Gladiator) composer, Lisa Gerrard and Timorese singing. This is very evocative adding significant atmosphere to the proceeding and a sense of melancholy.

    The cinematography and visual design are excellent, differentiating the two stories by making the footage of the Balibo Five look like the news footage of the era both with its colour scheme and shooting style. The Roger East story is more up to date in its style. Both use a very real and natural style feeling natural rather than staged, obviously helped by the locations and natural lighting.

    The acting is also of high quality led by Anthony LaPaglia but ably assisted by Gyton Grantley, Oscar Isaac, Nathan Phillips, Damon Gameau and Bea Viegas as the Timorese woman telling her story.

    This is a powerful film about a dark part of Australia's history which is important viewing but which is also a finely crafted cinema experience. Highly Recommended.

    For more information about the film and historical background check out  the film's official website. Interestingly, the film was recently banned in Indonesia.


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Transfer Quality


    The video quality is very good.

    The feature is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio which is the original aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced widescreen.

    The picture was quite clear and sharp throughout without ever being crisp. There is some light grain at times possibly driven by some of the footage being shot in 16mm and then printed at 35mm. Shadow detail was only average but I think this is a function of the naturalistic lighting rather than the transfer.

    The colour was excellent showing off the visual design I mentioned above.

    There were some minor MPEG artefacts such as at 22;32 and occasionally in the background.

    There are burned in subtitles for the Tetun language lines in English. There are optional subtitles available in English for the Hearing Impaired and Bahasa Indonesian. They are yellow and clear and easy to read. I did notice one subtitle with a line running through it breaking up the text.

    The layer change is at 55:57 and is well placed between scenes.


Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio is very good.

    This DVD contains three audio options, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack encoded at 448 Kb/s and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 224 Kb/s plus a Tetun (local Timorese language) soundtrack Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 224 Kb/s. There is also the commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 224 Kb/s.

    Dialogue was mostly clear and easy to understand in the English version however sometimes the subtitles were certainly useful.

    The music by Lisa Gerrard and the Timorese songs sound very good on this soundtrack significantly adding to the atmosphere.

    The surround speakers are mostly used for atmosphere and some effects during battle scenes.

    The subwoofer adds bass to the music and gunshots.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



A wonderful selection of extras are included spread over 2 discs.


    The menu includes an introduction, singing and minor animation. Scene selection is available.

Disc 1

Audio Commentary - Director Robert Connelly

    This is a very interesting commentary track which covers the political context of the film, editing choices, why captions were used, casting, use of non-actors, Dili now, the director's influences, the characters, visual styles and the music amongst other things. Connelly's delivery can be a little dry but the information never is.

Theatrical Trailer (2:22) 

    A powerful trailer which is well worth a look.

Disc 2

Deleted Scenes (10:32)

    Nine deleted scenes which add more background to Roger East and more depth to his relationship to Ramos-Horta. Definitely worth watching.

Behind the Scenes (34:57)

    Comprehensive making of documentary with lots of on-set footage. Includes shooting, actors preparation including relatives and friends of those involved, location interviews with Timorese involved originally and with the various cast members including LaPaglia. Another quality extra.


Creating the Balibo Five (8:34)

    The process of understanding and recreating the characters is covered here. Interesting both from a historical and film making perspective.

Roger East & Jose Ramos-Horta (6:48)

    The actors and the director talking about the characters and their relationship. Worthwhile.

Polyester, Perms & Short Shorts (9:10)

    This featurette covers costume and production design focusing on how they got the 70s look they were after. Good stuff.

Death of the Balibo Five (7:50)

    This is more about the history than the film and includes a panel discussion and an interview with Jose Ramos-Horta now. Covers the politics and he cover-up. Interesting.

Doco vs Drama (7:50)

    Approach taken to filming the story and striving for authenticity in doing so desite some sequences needing to be slightly fictionalised. Another interesting featurette.

History of East Timor & Balibo (7:10)

    Excellent featurette focusing on the politics, the history of Australia's relationship with Timor and how Australia tacitly approved the invasion.

Greg Shackelton's original reportage from East Timor 1975 (18:01)

    Fascinating footage shot by three Balibo Five journalists during their time in Timor before being executed. Obviously this footage was used as inspiration for a number of scenes in the film. Great extra!

DVD ROM - Atom Study Guide

    Pdf file containing a detailed study guide for the film and the events and politics. Another excellent extra even if you are not planning to study the film.





    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.


    This version seems to be the only one available globally at this stage.




A powerful and well made film about a dark time in Australia and East Timor's history.

The video quality is very good

The audio quality is very good

One of the best sets of extras I have seen in quite some time.


Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS708H upscaling to 1080p, using HDMI output
DisplayLG Scarlet 42LG61YD 106cm Full HD LCD. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersMonitor Audio Bronze 2 (Front), Bronze Centre & Bronze FX (Rears) + Sony SAW2500M Subwoofer

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