Behind the Lens
A Director's Insight
My exploration into the intricate tapestry of Timor-Leste's history and culture began with a profound awareness of my own limitations in understanding its depths. Despite rigorous research, engaging with authoritative figures on the subjects at hand, and delving deep into the multifaceted issues discussed in the film, it remains a deeply personal interpretation. I approach the narrative as an outsider looking in, and the implications of this perspective are woven throughout the film's fabric.
Timor-Leste has a rich, tumultuous history. With about 500 years under Portuguese colonization, followed by 25 years of Indonesian occupation marked by attempts at genocide and cultural assimilation, its cultural landscape is varied and vibrant. Post the Portuguese departure, the invaders made efforts to obliterate every trace of the culture left behind by the Portuguese. Today, Timor-Leste stands as a fledgling nation, a little over two decades old, without the luxury of extensive historical records that western countries enjoy. Much of its culture thrives orally, passed down generations through traditional practices and cultural expressions.
The current linguistic landscape of Timor-Leste is complex, with over 30 dialects adding to the richness of its cultural tapestry. Although Tétum and Portuguese are the official languages, Portuguese is still spoken, mainly by the older generation. These elders likely belong to generations closer to the era when Timor-Leste was a Portuguese territory. Additionally, representatives of the Catholic Church also speak Portuguese, possibly due to the influence of the Portuguese who introduced Catholicism to the island and because their religious education and studies were conducted in Portuguese.
The younger generation, those under 30 constituting a significant portion of the population, typically do not speak Portuguese. They've grown up with Bahasa Indonesia and English as secondary languages, while Tétum and other indigenous languages like Fataluku or Baiqueno are spoken at home. This generation is often referred to as the "Tim-Tim" generation, named after "Timor-Timur", the Indonesian term for their 27th province."
A contemporary linguistic dilemma in Timor revolves around language adoption—whether it be Tétum, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia, or English. This issue deeply intertwines with the country's evolving identity. While most of the population communicates in Tétum, it often blends with elements from Bahasa Indonesia, local dialects, Portuguese, and English—a reflection of globalization and cultural amalgamation.
One practical example of these linguistic challenges can be seen in the absence of the Tétum language in most existing translation programs, systems, and platforms, including Google Translate where Tétum isn't even listed. Another instance of this lack was evident when cataloging the film for submission to international film festivals. Tétum didn't appear on the list of possible languages to select from, unlike Portuguese and English. Dictionaries, too, are rare and often limited in content, regardless of the target language. To the best of my knowledge, the first Tétum grammar is quite recent, being less than 20 years old.
During the documentary's filming, I collaborated with local interpreters. On occasion, they struggled to translate specific terms or expressions used by the locals due to unfamiliar foreign words or local dialects. It became evident that even within the Timorese community, linguistic communication can sometimes pose a challenge—a difficulty mirrored during our film's translation and subtitling phase.
In essence, this documentary represents a culmination of exhaustive research, consultations with individuals deeply rooted in Timorese culture, and my own interpretations. During my journey, I came to understand the significance of institutions that preserve the nation's history. One such institution is the Centro Audiovisual Max Stahl Timor-Leste, a vital custodian of the nation's audiovisual history. However, they face challenges ranging from a lack of adequate equipment to limited human and financial resources.
As a token of my gratitude and in hopes of preserving the mesmerizing culture of Timor-Leste, the raw materials from the documentary, consisting of over 100 hours of audio and video recordings, have been donated to them. They also graciously permitted the usage of some of their archival material in "Sikat Subar".
From an external observer to the vibrant tapestry of Timor-Leste,
Diogo Pessoa de Andrade