I meet writer/director Robert Connolly on the day that his latest film, Balibo, received a general theatrical release all over Australia. Connolly’s extraordinary film depicts what happened to the Australian journalist Roger East in 1975 when he went looking for five younger journalists after they went missing while reporting on the impending Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Connolly has just come off a gruelling three-week promotional tour all over Australia and although very keen to chat with me, he is irked by the criticism about the film’s occasional use of handheld cameras.
“The handheld in Balibo is so not overt,” Connolly tells me, “but it’s what we did because that was how those guys filmed.”
Connolly is referring to the fact that a lot of technology from the 1970s was used to film the Balibo Five scenes.
“I used ingenue lenses from the ‘70s, standard 16 lenses not super-16 lenses, I graded it – using Brett Manson, an amazing grader who also did Tsotsi – to make it look like reversal, we used a faster stock that had more grain in it and a whole range of things. We emulated the style of that time with the camera movements – handheld!”
I have to admit that I was surprised to hear that other people had made such comments because the use of handheld in Balibo is minor and when it is used it feels stylistically correct. Perhaps the issue has less to do with the film itself and more to do with the people making the criticisms?
“Filmmakers took the camera off the tripod four years ago – continuing to complain about that is getting embarrassing.”