The Indonesian premiere of the acclaimed political thriller Balibo, based on the killing of TV journalists during Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor, was scuttled on Tuesday after government censors banned the film at the last minute.
The Australian-made film, directed by Robert Connolly, had been slated to debut at a private screening hosted by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club.
It had also been slated to be featured as part of the program of the Jakarta International Film Festival, which begins Friday.
However, just as Tuesday's screening was set to begin, the group learned Indonesia's film censorship agency had officially reviewed Balibo earlier that afternoon and had just announced a ban of the film.
Officials had previously launched a complaint about the movie in 2008, before filming began.
The agency offered no official reason for the ban. All films to be screened publicly in Indonesia must first be approved by the censorship agency.
"They told us that we cannot show the movie," Nauval Yazid, an official with the Jakarta film festival, told local media.
"The reason was not really clear. It is likely because of concerns that it will affect relations with East Timor and Australia."
Lawyers for the foreign correspondents club advised against defying the ban for fear of criminal charges.
Inspired by journalist's exposé
Based on the 2001 book Cover-Up by former freelance journalist Jill Jolliffe, Balibo tells the story of the Balibo Five: a group of journalists who remained in East Timor to cover the situation for Australian TV in 1975 (Jolliffe was evacuated).
The men, who were reporting military raids on the border town of Balibo and other incursions into East Timor, were killed about six weeks before Indonesia's invasion in December. A sixth journalist who travelled to the area to investigate their deaths was also killed by Indonesian troops. The occupation of East Timor continued for 24 years.
Indonesian officials have denied any wrongdoing in the deaths and claimed that the journalists took up arms during skirmishes in Balibo and were killed in crossfire
Balibo, which stars Anthony LaPaglia and was partially filmed on location in East Timor, premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2009 and also won a several awards at the Brisbane International Film Festival. It also screened at both the Toronto and London international film festivals.
East Timor President José Ramos Horta awarded director Connolly and producer John Maynard with the Presidential Medal of Merit in September when the film — dubbed in the Tetun language for local audiences — was screened publicly for a week in the capital city of Dili.
Also in September, Australian police announced it had opened a war crimes investigation into the deaths of the Balibo Five.
source: CBS News