Children of the Crocodile (review)
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Children of the Crocodile, a film by Marsha Emerman. New York: Women Make Movies, 2001, 52 min., rental VHS $75, sale VHS $250.

Marsha Emerman's Children of the Crocodile is a story of two young Timorese-Australian women and their negotiation of their personal and political selves as refugees from East Timor. In 1975, when Cidalia Pires and Elizabeth Exposto were infants, their familes fled together from the Indonesian invasion of East Timor to Melbourne, Australia. Growing up in homes across the street from one another, Cidalia and Elizabeth were counterparts, partner-witnesses to and participants in their families' continuing struggles for East Timor's independence. The film uses the alternating voices and perspectives of Cidalia and Elizabeth to tell the story of their individual and shared connections to their homeland and the specific nature of each one's ongoing "return."

First-person voiceovers, direct address, family photos, home movies, and found footage communicate the story of Cidalia's and Elizabeth's violent displacement to Australia and their early lives there. Their narratives are punctuated by key events in East Timor's political history from 1975 to the present day: Indonesia's invasion (1975) and occupation, during which one-third of the East Timorese population was killed or died from starvation and war-related disease; the vote for independence (1999) and the violent backlash against pro-independence East Timorese; and the re-building of East Timor as a new nation that continues even now. Children of the Crocodile documents two young women's attempt to assimilate their nation's traumatic history of colonization and genocide and their struggles to negotiate loyalties to family and nation in the face of continuing loss and tenuous victories.

The film depicts how Cidalia Pires expresses and pursues her connection to East Timor through art. Along with her brother, mother, and other members of the Timorese-Australian community, she performs East Timorese dances and skits that enact East Timorese historical legends and political struggles. Early in the film, Cidalia asserts that she is not ready to return to East Timor, that her work for East Timorese independence and freedom lies in cultural expression and retention. The film documents the intense fear and emotion, as well as the profound understanding and support, with which Cidalia sees her mother return to East Timor to help with the nation's rebuilding after independence. Eventually, Cidalia does travel to East Timor, to document East Timorese dance and culture as performed by those who live on the island. Cidalia's cousin Elizabeth, whose story comprises an equal portion of the film, returns to East Timor as well, to work as a liaison officer for the United Nations. [End Page 222]

Emerman shows us Elizabeth's apparently more traditional activism: before she became a liaison officer for the United Nations, she worked and demonstrated in Melbourne for and with pro-independence organizations. She speaks publicly in Melbourne and East Timor about the plight of East Timor, and is clearly a visible and trusted leader in the East Timorese struggle to become and build itself as an independent nation. She appears tireless in pursuit of her commitment to East Timor and its people, but she hints at the problematics of being ever-present at the front lines of organized independence activism when she suggests that Cidalia's activism through cultural performance demonstrates that Cidalia has done "more soul-searching" than she has.

Children of the Crocodile resists romanticizing Cidalia's and Elizabeth's commitment to family and nation, even as it conveys their remarkable courage and profound love for their homeland. A particularly poignant moment in the film occurs when Cidalia remembers the discomfort and anger she felt as a child about the "politics, politics, politics" that dominated "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" in her family's home. Another moment in which the film suggests the difficulties of negotiating "self" and "nation" is when Cidalia remembers the overwhelming fear of her father that she experienced when she came out as lesbian. She reflects: "We had to do everything for East Timor. Everything we did was for East Timor. Being a lesbian wasn't one of them...