Mensajeiru (Messenger) is a short film by East Timorese Director Francisca Maia. Based on a true story, a young man accepts a dangerous mission to deliver a message on behalf of hundreds of refugees hiding from paramilitary forces in East Timor.
The message is a handwritten letter to the International Force For East Timor (INTERFET) to inform them of the situation. It is sewn into the man’s shoe before he sets off on the perilous journey.
He is followed by his 15-year-old brother, who then must shoulder the responsibility of delivering the letter in hopes of saving his community during East Timor’s vote for independence from Indonesia.
The opening title sequence states:
“In 1999, East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. Within hours of the result, Indonesian Militia groups began attacking and burning the country. The International Force for East Timor was unaware that refugees in the mountain were under threat.”
The film was produced by Apocalypse Films producer Tuuli Forward with a local crew, who had never worked in film production, and a crew from Australia. The film was shot in a week in the jungle outside the northern coastal city of Dili with assistance from the Victorian College of the Arts.
Mensajeiru premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival and has gone on to do well at the Munich Filmschoolfest, Geneva Film Festival and Beijing Film Academy’s 13th International Student Film & Video Festival.
The film’s rich setting and non-actors stand out as strong points. We see a moment where the brothers share food together before going their separate ways. It’s a natural and beautiful moment set against the high-pressured task of the messengers. The letter that the young boy carried was responsible for saving hundreds of lives.
It’s an important story about the country’s history for the world to see, and it carries with it such heart. And the message at the end of the film recognizes this, along with paying tribute to all those messengers that didn’t complete their journey.
In an interview with the Film School Festival Munich‘s director, Francisca Maia, explains what led her to want to become a filmmaker:
“As a child, my mother told me stories from which I learned about various family and cultural traditions. This included the history of our ancestors and also stories about the period of colonialism and the first decade of war and occupation.
“So when I became aware of social problems like cultural oppression, gender-based inequality and discrimination, poverty, crime and political violence, I believed a solution had to be found. I was quickly drawn to the medium of film, realizing its potential to evaluate and describe social problems, and raise consciousness for social problems in the society.
“For me, telling a story is not only about sharing the experience with others, but also kind of a therapeutic and healing process. It gives me a moment to value my experiences and hope the narrative of the story can somehow help others who made the same experience.”