Max Stahl awarded Highest Civilian Honour

Max Stahl awarded Highest Civilian Honour

Filmmaker Max Stahl receives the Order of Timor from President Lu-Olo (Image/Jufen for PR)

DILI, 21 November 2019 (TATOLI) – The filmmaker who brought the shocking pictures of the Santa Cruz massacre to the world, Max Stahl, has been awarded Timor’s highest civilian honour for his contribution to the media.

Timor’s President Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo awarded Mr Stahl the ‘Order of Timor-Leste’ medal (Colar Ordem Timor-Leste) at a ceremony in Dili on Friday.

“We see you (Max Stahl) as our companion that we really needed in the past, need in the present and for the future of Timor-Leste!” President Lu-Olo said.

“We appreciate all the things that you have done sir! Thank you for providing us the window of opportunity to become greater as people and a nation. Timor-Leste is also yours, and those around you,” President Lu-Olo said.

Returning from treatment for cancer in the UK, Mr Stahl received the medal at a ceremony at the Presidential Palace. In a speech afterwards, he thanked the government for acknowledging his long commitment to the country of Timor-Leste.

“I am very thankful to the president for the recognition, because I came to Timor-Leste to found out about the history and [your] fight for humanity. I have also learnt many things about the reality of lives from Timorese friends,” he said.

Mr Stahl said Timor-Leste has taught him “how to fight with dignity and courage” as the country was liberated to become an independent nation.

The 64-year-old’s 1991 film in the middle of the Santa Cruz massacre brought pictures of Timor’s struggle for independence to the world.

“I did not make the [Santa Cruz] film because the images are beautiful,” he said, “but because of the dignity [of Timor], which all the world recognises,” he said.

Executive Director of post-conflict reconciliation commission, Chega!, Hugo Maria Fernandes said the award is given to Max Stahl based on his contribution to TL.

“This is the highest order the government offers any [civilian] citizen, domestic or foreign, and is given to [those who] give the highest contribution to the struggle for national liberation,” he said.

He said the Santa Cruz video, which remains strictly Mr Stahl’s intellectual property, is a precious piece of national history.

“We need to preserve the original video, the video that was seen throughout the world. But it depends of Max Stahl to submit it to the government [for preservation],” he added.

Filmmaker Max Stahl (Image/President Republica PR)

A life less ordinary

The 64-year-old journalist and documentary film maker was born Christopher Wenner in England, on December 6, 1954.

He was born to a French mother and Swedish father, Cristopher Max Stahl, who, like Max’s grandfather, was a Swedish Diplomat. As children, Max Stahl Jnr and his three brothers moved across the world to countries such as Bolivia, El Salvador, and Austria, giving the future filmmaker early insights into international problems.

Mr Stahl studied literature in the University of Oxford, and began his career as stage actor, moving into television and children’s programming in the UK.

His reporting career, however, began in El Salvador, where his father had served as ambassador, during the civil war of 1979 to 1992. This was the first of many assignments in dangerous provinces, from Chechnya to Georgia and the Balkans. And it wasn’t without incident: Stahl was imprisoned, witnessed the killing of fellow journalists and spent time living in the forest with guerillas.

It was the clandestine struggle for independence which drew him to Timor-Leste in 1991, which at the time was under tightly controlled media restrictions imposed by the Indonesian military. At the invitation of the resistance movement, and posing as a tourist, Max Stahl filmed interviews with leaders from the Frente Klandestina (clandestine front), including guerilla commander, David Alex ”Daitula”, Nino Konis Santana and others. But it was the extra assignment – the fatal Santa Cruz march – for which he would become famous.

”Cold Blood: The Massacre of East Timor”

The documentary Max Stahl shot in 1991 included his harrowing, first-person account of the brutal murder of unarmed Timorese activists.Mr Stahl had smuggled the film out of the country with the help of Dutch activist Saskia Kouwenberg.

What had been only commissioned by a regional UK television station ended up leading bulletins around the world, revealing a hitherto silent struggle.

“That’s what changed everything. We are not going to allow Santa Cruz to be forgotten,” former President Jose Ramos-Horta said in a 2002 documentary.

“The Santa Cruz massacre was the turning point.”

The violence of 1999 brought Max Stahl back to Timor-Leste once again, to document the resilience of Timor’s final fight for independence, formally granted in May 2002.

Since that time, Max Stahl has been a familiar figure in free Timor, setting up and managing the Max Stahl Audiovisual Centre. The archival service, working with Coimbra University in Portugal, has amassed more than 13,000 hours of historical video footage, and was inscribed on the UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ International Register in 2003.

President Lu-Olo said Timor-Leste ought to recognise Max Stahl’s effort and dedication in documenting Timorese history. The late Irish war video journalist Rory Peck was also recognised for his work, risking his life, to bring images of the Timorese struggle to the world.

Max Stahl joins illustrious company in receiving the medal, whose recipients include Nobel Laureate Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximines Belo. Mr Stahl is the first non-Timorese to receive the honour.

Journalist: Cipriano Colo

Editors: Xisto Freitas; Robert Baird

Translation: Nelia Borges


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