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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 


East Timor, 1975. As Indonesian forces mass off the coast of the fledgling nation, its foreign minister Josè Ramos Horta flies to New York to lobby the United Nations for assistance. Even before his plane has landed, the Indonesians had invaded. Horta would not set foot on East Timorese soil for another 24 years. In the latter part of 1998, he allowed Tom Zubrycki to follow his efforts on behalf of the East Timor independence movement. From New York to Austria, Korea to Australia the film traces the crucial meetings leading to the 1999 independence referendum; and its aftermath.

"Winston Churchill once said "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it". In the case of Jose Ramos Horta, he both wrote history and, in Tom Zubrycki’s The Diplomat, had it written for him. The film’s production was particularly timely as the filmmakers were allowed extraordinary access to the East Timorese envoy in the months leading up to the crucial independence vote in August 1999. The result is a remarkable portrait of a man committed to his cause; but strangely removed from it. Horta seems so at home in the meeting rooms of the world’s most powerful people, that the contrast between he and imprisoned leader Xanana Guzmao is striking. However, while the subject of The Diplomat is exceptional, the same can’t be said of the filmmaking style. It offers nothing new in terms of documentary technique, relying heavily on the tried-and-true talking head interviews mixed with contemporary and archive footage. Fortunately, this detracts little from its impact. There’s no denying The Diplomat delivers a forceful message about what happened in one of our nearest neighbours - and what could happen elsewhere in our region. The film is actually at its most powerful when it turns to look at the tremendous suffering endured by the people of East Timor; both before and, most pointedly, after the vote for independence. Despite my reservations about The Diplomat, this is a film that deserves to be seen - both for the depth of its portrait of Horta and for its illuminating expose of the tragic events in his country."
David Edwards

"The biggest impact of The Diplomat is the way it concentrates a 24 year quest into its sparse 81 minute running time. By telescoping the history and projecting it onto Horta’s life, Zubrycki loses some detail but gains perspective. For that alone, the film is an unusual documentary; and in its clearly defined editorial bias, it is honest, if incomplete, never quite giving the viewer the payoff in its portrayal of the Indonesian military. We only hear the hypocritical press-speak of the politicians. But to be fair, the film doesn’t set out to be a historical document so much as a political profile of one of the key players in the East Timor debacle. It can be argued that the title is a simple handle for Horta and what he does, but the reality seems to be that Horta is a diplomat only in the sense of being an advocate, not in the deeper meaning of the word: he pushed and he phoned and he gathered allies, but not like a diplomat might – more like an embattled freedom fighter exiled from his country. Some of the insights verge on the personal, too, especially those in his mother’s Sydney kitchen where everyone seems to fry eggs. And when Horta is carelessly swearing at his enemies. Or when he is dejected and almost defeated, drained by the desperation of his country as it bleeds half to death. And the one thing Zubrycki avoids is castigating Australia for its cowardly role. But we can leave that task to our collective consciences."
Andrew L. Urban

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DOCUMENTARY about Jose Ramos Horta, with Horta, Natalina Ramos Horta, Xanana Gusmao, Ines Almeida, Joao Carracalao, and others.

DIRECTOR: Tom Zubrycki

PRODUCER: Sally Browning, Wilson da Silva

WRITERS: Wilson da Silva, Tom Zubrycki

CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Robert Humphreys, Tom Zubrycki, Jo Parker, Joel Peterson

EDITOR: Ray Thomas

MUSIC: Jan Preston

RUNNING TIME: 81 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 17, 2000 (Sydney)
September 7 - Melbourne

AWARDS: Best Documentary, Sydney Film Festival 2000

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