Hope in Paradise Four Years On
The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Thu, 01/29/2009 8:03 PM |
When the 2002 bombs went off in Bali, they were to trigger events and forever change perceptions about the island famed as a place of peace and beauty. Sarah-Jane Scrase meets a woman who documented the triumph of the human spirit after the tragedy.
Canadian Jane Walters, a longtime Bali resident and filmmaker, grabbed her camera on that fated night of October 12 and headed to Kuta, with no understanding of how the next year was to unfold into a documentary of human compassion and heartwarming dimensions.
This compelling story began with Reuters hiring Walters and her Canadian friend and colleague Robert Coster. They worked tirelessly for the next two and a half days, witnessing all the horrors that the situation entailed. Walters had not taken her camera out of its bag since 1998, when she moved to Bali with her husband Mohd Zaidi Bin Saleh (the documentary’s producer) from Japan.
“After graduating from university, I worked in the film industry for 2 ½ years with the Directors Guild of Canada as assistant director,” Walters says over lunch at her home in Canggu. “It was mind-boggling 18-hour days with a 4-hour turnaround 8 days a week. They worked us like slaves and as there was not any creativity involved, I soon tired of it and took off for Tokyo to make a documentary on hostessing. This was controversial at the time, although I would still like to finish it at some point now realizing that it was a huge task to have taken on alone.”
She moved to Bali with her husband to become a mother and run a boutique hotel and villa business. She had no idea that her residence in Bali and her film background would lead to her making a documentary on one of the most important events in recent Bali history.
Walters realized while working for Reuters that it would have made a more interesting story to have turned her camera on the media to document the way they were covering the story.
“What I was witnessing was how the media passed the majority of its attention to the Australians [who were killed], and no one was talking to the Balinese,” she says. “I witnessed our footage being broadcast from the media’s perspective. It was at that point that I decided to meet with some of the Balinese widows, and that is how I initially met Asriani (Sri) Kebon for the first time.”
Sri is the central figure of what evolved into Waters’ documentary, a Balinese princess from an Australian mother and Brahmin Balinese father.
“She struck me as being truly interested and caring as she consoled an elderly woman who had lost her daughter. I also realized that she was working as a legal translator in the courts therefore was meeting a lot of the Australian media, and so, was instrumental in bringing the Balinese’s plight to the fore.”
It was six months after the bombing and after having filmed the intitial interviews Sri then happened to meet two children, Sabda and Sarah, whose Indonesian mother had been killed at the Sari Club, and whose Iranian refugee father was detained in Australia. It was then decided that Sri would be the glue that held it all together and the documentary began to take shape. It makes for compelling screening; worthy of any penned Hollywood script, all the more so as this is obviously completely unscripted.
Bali Hope in Paradise meets victims’ parents (in particular Geoff Thwaite who set up the Zero to One Charity), widows and orphans as well as highlighting the poor relations between western and Muslim nations, all through the gentle mannerisms and softly spoken interviews of strikingly elegant Sri, who strives to regain peace on her island.
A very poignant segment of this is highlighted when she interviews one of the bombers, Amrozi, who continues with his insensitive religious cries and sings a demented song to her through his bars. She never once loses her patience. Not then, and not when she has to “buy” the children away from the brothel owners in a known pedophile district, even though they have stolen the money that their relentless father was sending for their education and welfare, himself incarcerated in a different country.
The documentary reaches its climax when Prime Minister John Howard is holding the hands of the children, who are in “supposed” political asylum and cannot be rejoined with their father, creating an international media frenzy which is positively resolved. This is a film of triumph, that one person can make all the difference to human suffering and compassion; the yin and yang of life’s tapestry.
Four years on, Sabda and Sarah live happily with their father in Melbourne, after all of them gained their Australian citizenship. He is now remarried. They do return to Bali where both Walters and Sri see them as well as keep in contact with them.
Sri still lives in Bali where she now works with the Australian Federal Police. After the completion of the documentary she returned to university and completed her degree.
The widows who told their stories in the documentary have moved on with their lives, and after having learned the basic life skills they were so lacking due to being supported by their husbands’ salaries, have opened sidewalk stalls as well as various other businesses. They are self-sufficient, the aim of the charities.
Jane Walters continues to live in Bali with her family, and is a mother to three beautiful daughters. She runs her family’s boutique hotel in Umalas, as well as their villas in Seminyak. She was always disappointed that Bali; Hope in Paradise – the winner of the Best International Film Documentary at the 2004 New York Independent Film Festival – did not receive the distribution that it deserved.
When she tried to distribute it through broadcast, no one would pick it up. “We are completely cut off from what is happening in the film world living on an island. I wanted to have it seen by a wide audience as it is just too beautiful a story to be missed.”
However, there is another story within this story. Walters was contacted by Guam University. She was invited to Guam in 2006, just after the unfortunate events of the second bombing, and screened the film. So inspired were several of the students and lecturers that they returned to Bali in 2007 for a Bali Field workshop, and made their own half an hour documentary entitled Casting Our Net.