Screened as part of NZIFF 2002

Emails from East Timor 2001

Directed by Peter Marra

Aotearoa New Zealand In English, Portuguese and Tetum with English subtitles
56 minutes Beta-SP

Director, Producer, Photography

Screenplay, Narrator

Dave Owens

Additional photography

Meno Cordosa

Editor, Sound

Jamie Shotter

Additional editor

Keith Finnerty


Paulo Pereira dos Santos
Toto Lebre

East Timor became the first new nation of the millennium this May. Emails from East Timor is a plain and plain-spoken view of life at ground level as seen by New Zealander Dave Owens while working as a volunteer carpenter for local East Timorese community group Futo, rebuilding the infrastructure left devastated by the Indonesian military. Based on a series of emails written over four months, Dave Owens’ stories provide a window into aid issues such as health, housing and education, depicting a resilient people as they begin to rebuild their nation from scratch. Drawing on interviews with local people and the often contentious opinions of international volunteers, Emails from East Timor succinctly clarifies problems and challenges facing the independent East Timorese. 

International aid is vital for the development of this new country, but often aid packages contain goods – obsolete and damaged computers, jigsaws with missing pieces, teddy bears with missing eyes – that are useless. In fact, while these hand-me-downs may make the donors feel like they’ve made a contribution, disposing of the junk costs the Timorese money and pollutes the countryside. Even badly needed aid often has trouble finding its way into the right hands: a bench saw donated by director Peter Marra went missing for several months before Dave Owens could put it to use. 

Peter Marra’s film lets us tour the streets of Dili and see for ourselves the horrific devastation. He captures the sweltering tropical atmosphere and the dangers such as mosquito-borne Dengue fever that greet the dedicated individuals who are trying to change matters. A selection of East Timorese musicians provide an inspiring soundtrack. — Michael McDonnell 

After 24 years they got the Indonesian military out. It’s an extraordinary feat. Although this place has been stripped bare, it is also an incredible victory for the East Timorese. — Dave Owens