Subject: SMH: Ramos Horta's About-face On Screen Portrayal

Ramos Horta's About-face On Screen Portrayal By Sacha Molitorisz

06/12/2000 Sydney Morning Herald Page 15

You can hear Jose Ramos Horta before you see him. Talking into a mobile phone, the Nobel Peace Prize winner's voice registers as a low rumble, then builds, by the time you shake hands, into a low-level earthquake.

``This is very special coffee,'' he says, smiling, as I sit down. As usual, his jaw is covered by stubble and his collar is Mandarin-style. The coffee had taken a long time to arrive. ``I think they went all the way to the Highlands to get the beans. This is a very special hotel.''

The steely statesman and activist is in a good humour. Then, with East Timor free after a bloody, quarter-century struggle, he can afford to be more jovial. Especially as he is in town not for politics, but for the Sydney Film Festival.

After tailing Ramos Horta for the crucial 18 months surrounding last August's independence referendum, Australian film-maker Tom Zubrycki (Exile in Sarajevo, Billal) has made a documentary called The Diplomat. Ramos Horta flew into Sydney on Friday, then watched the biographical snapshot that night for the first time. ``My first reaction was relief. That I'm not turned into a hero. My biggest concern was that the film showed that I single-handedly led East Timor to independence. The one great thing about the film is that Xanana [Gusmao] is very much a part of it as well.

``The only thing I regret was to admit that I had extramarital liaisons. Why did I have to say that? It was so stupid. Everybody lies about their extramarital contacts, especially Clinton.'' That's the strength of The Diplomat. While it's a fascinating historical document, it's also an engaging profile of a complex character. Occasionally cracks appear in the facade: Ramos Horta is shown throwing beer nuts, complaining about his glasses, confessing infidelity.

He claims he's not quite as media savvy as people might think. ``Because I appear always on television, people think that I enjoy it. I tell you I hate it. Some people are very natural. Like Xanana Gusmao. He has not done even one-tenth of what I have done in terms of media, but he is almost like a top professional politician always totally relaxed.

``A few times I was rude with them [the film-makers], and I felt bad because they were really very nice people. They were supportive about East Timor. But sometimes I said to them, When are you going to finish this f---ing film? They said, Well, when you go back to Timor. I thought by then I don't need the f---ing film anyway. I said, I want it now in order to help.''

Was helping the independence struggle the only reason Ramos Horta agreed to be involved? ``Oh yes, and then I regretted having agreed. I think more than anything else it was the images, the pictures, beamed into homes around the world, that saved us. If it were not for the cameras, Timor would still be under Indonesia today.''

Ramos Horta has been adamant all along that the way he is portrayed isn't important. Last October he told the Herald, ``I don't think I will even bother to see it.'' He says he changed his mind out of respect and gratitude to those who worked on the film.

``I found it exceptionally good. It is the best documentary on East Timor . There were others that were powerful, but of course they [Zubrycki and his team] had sheer luck on their side, because the events unfolded while they were filming.

``At the end of the film, one feels crushed to go through the events of September again. Only when I recovered I realised the country is free. We paid a terrible price but the country is free.''

The Diplomat screens at the State Theatre today at 4.15pm and tomorrow at 12.05pm.

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