Director revisits East Timor to make follow-up documentary 20 years after his first one broadcast brutal massacre to the world

PUBLISHED: 12:29 03 October 2013 | UPDATED: 12:32 03 October 2013

Documentary director Peter Gordon with East Timor prime minister Xanana Gusmão

Documentary director Peter Gordon with East Timor prime minister Xanana Gusmão


Twenty years after three million people worldwide watched his documentary about the brutal massacre of people in East Timor, a Hackney born-and-bred director has returned to the island in South-East Asia to make a follow-up film.

Peter Gordon, 59, has spent two years making Bloodshot: The Dreams and Nightmares of East Timor about how the victims and survivors have fared since the 1991 massacre of at least 250 people in the Santa Cruz cemetery in the capital city of Dili.

The massacre was the subject of his original ITV film In Cold Blood: The massacre of East Timor.

Although an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 East Timorese overall were killed by Indonesian soldiers after the country declared its independence in 1975, the documentary showed the first footage of the slaughter going on in the country.

Not only did the documentary help bring the humanitarian crisis to public attention, it also had an impact on the lives of those making it.

Former Blue Peter presenter and cameraman Max Stahl, who risked his life to film the massacre, was declared a national hero and moved to East Timor to train young people how to film and make archive footage about the country. Mr Gordon said he saw it as an “opportunity to do work that was meaningful”.

Researcher Kirsty Sword returned to help the resistance and became a “conduit” for guerilla leader Xanana Gusmão from 1993 onwards by helping him get messages out to his guerillas. She ended up marrying him in 2000 and became the country’s first lady after he was elected president in 2002. He is now the country’s current prime minister.

Speaking about the follow-up film, which features interviews with the prime minister and premieres in Islington tonight (Thursday), Mr Gordon said: “It was extraordinary to go back and meet Xanana. We had previously tried to meet him in 1991, but it was too unsafe. It was wonderful to see him and the others in such fantastic circumstances in an independent country.”

The former Sir Thomas Abney School pupil, who grew up in Amhurst Park, Stamford Hill, and currently lives in Leeds, added: “For many people, there’s still issues with the Indonesian government. The current leaders are in favour of reconciliation with Indonesia. The country is their closest neighbour and provides them with all sorts of goods and products.

“However, many East Timorese are concerned about war criminals who have not been prosecuted. There were some East Timorese guerillas who carried out killings of their own people and many of them are still in East Timor.”

n Watch the premiere of Bloodshot: The Dreams and Nightmares of East Timor tonight at Harecourt United Reform Church, Saint Paul’s Road, Canonbury, at 7.15pm. Free tickets can be obtained from

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