When the Portuguese first arrived at the island of Timor in the sixteenth century, they made their historic landing in Oecusse. Cinema Lorosa'e set foot there for the first time last week, for two nights' screenings in this most remote district of the Timor-Leste. Surrounded on three sides by land borders with the Indonesian territory of West Timor, Oecusse is most easily reached by sea, so the Cinema Lorosa'e team loaded the van onto the ferry that runs twice a week between the Oecusse capital Pante Makassar and Dili.
After an overnight journey of more than 12 hours, Cinema Lorosa'e unloaded the now-famous van from the ferry onto the wharf at Pantai Makassar and went to check out the screening location: here, as is often the case, the community football field.
There's not much entertainment in Oecusse, so the people there were thrilled to learn that they would be able to go to the movies for two nights running. We decided that it was really important to get the word out to as many people as possible so that they could all come to the screenings. Not many people in Timor-Leste's remote areas have access to media, so we often work through the local District Administrators who use their formal and informal communication networks to get the information out. In Oecusse, the Timor-Leste Police and the United Nations Police also pitched in to help, the latter making sure that there was an announcement on the UNPOL community police radio. The Church, also, are very supportive of the Cinema Lorosa'e programme wherever we travel. The day before the screenings were scheduled, if just so happened that there was a great celebration for a local priest's 25th anniversary of taking his vows, attended by all three of Timor-Leste's bishops. So an announcement was made to the guests at the huge party and the word spread even further.
Having resolved communications issues, it was then down to arranging transport for people from the outlying villages, and most importantly, the local orphanage at Topu Honis, 6km away from the capital. Enter Australian expat, Mark Heywood, whose wife Veronica is from Oecusse - the couple worked all of their connections for Cinema Lorosa'e and mobilised any vehicles they could lay their hands on. The orphans were literally trucked in for the event.
And so it was that the first night's screening saw an audience of 4,200 cheering people crammed into the soccer field to watch "Balibo". Heywood and his family set themselves up in style with folding chairs, snacks and - as any self-respecting Australian would require - an "eskie" full of cold drinks to last throughout the movie.
After the drama of "Balibo", on the second night we screened the musical movie "Os 2 Filhos de Francisco", which, since it was first supplied by the embassy for the Brazilian Cultural night at the "Sunset Fair", has turned out to be one of the most requested films of the season.
It is certainly a fine movie, but initially we wondered why - and how - people in some of the most distant corners of Timor-Leste knew enough about it to request that we screen it. Then we learned that many people had heard the film's songs on the radio it was the music that lay behind the popular demand for the film, which they'd never had to opportunity to watch. That explained why the 2,900-strong second-night crowd enjoyed a community sing-song as their favourite tunes were performed before them on the big screen. Incidentally, fans of Brazilian music can buy the original soundtrack of the movie, which tells the story of Zeze de Camargo and Luciano, two of the major sertanejo-style Brazilian stars, and features songs from Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethania, Ney Matogrosso, Nando Reis, Wanessa Camrago, Chitaozinho & Xororo, among others.
After the show, many people approached Cinema Lorosa'e's Maria Alves to give their thanks for the event and especially for screening "Balibo"; they said that it gave the people of Oecusse the opportunity to learn more about what really happened during the Indonesian invasion of Timor-Leste in 1975.
Heywood was also impressed with the technical quality of the screenings, the sound and the sheer size of the inflatable screen, which amazed his children. "My kids loved it! It's a brilliant idea, it's great to be able to sit out and watch a movie... something we never expected to do in Oecusse. But that screen! I can't wait for you to come back."
Heywood's wish for a return visit by Cinema Lorosa'e was one shared by many people in Oecusse. As one local journalist put it: "We sometimes feel that we are neglected. I appeal to you on behalf of the people of Oecusse: do not stop this project. Please come back. Don't be like the others who promise to return and then they never do".
And that remark still echoed in the minds of the Cinema Lorosa'e team as they gathered on the deck of the ferry for the return to Dili, to watch the beautiful hills of this enchanting district recede into the distance.