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Tributes to Blue Peter presenter turned award-winning filmmaker

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The former President of East Timor has led tributes to Max Stahl, who has died aged 66 from cancer.

The award-winning filmmaker became a national hero in the region, after he filmed a planned protest against Indonesian rule in 1991. Soldiers opened fire and killed 271 people.

In long post on Facebook, José Ramos-Horta, the former President of East Timor (now Timor-Leste) said that their “treasured son”’s death would cause “national pain and trauma.”

He wrote of the day in 1991:

“Max brought his camera. He kept the camera rolling. Soldiers had been pre-positioned. And they opened fire on the peaceful protesters. From inside the cemetery, protected behind gravestones, Max filmed the soldiers in free firing mode, the dead and the dying. Knowing he would be arrested, he dug a whole and hid the film.

“Later in the darkness of night, and with absolute ‘sang froid’, Max returned to the cemetery, climbed over the wall and retrieved the highly explosive visual, incontrovertible evidence of outrageous cruelty of uniformed special forces firing on young men and women. Hundreds were killed that day. Max had documented it all.

“The film was smuggled out and made its way to major TV networks around the globe. The international community saw the first solid evidence of the suffering and death of the Timorese people, including the cold blooded murder of  completely peaceful protesters.

“There are only a few key points in the history of Timor-Leste where the course of our nation turned toward freedom. This was one of those points. It was the first time our message broke through to the world. Human rights networks went into action. Senators, Congressmen and Parliamentarians came to our side. And this happened when one man was willing to risk his life to document up close what was happening and smuggled the message out of our country.”

The film was first aired on Channel 4 and then turned into a full-length documentary for Yorkshire TV.

It won him the Rory Peck award for hard news, as well as honours from the New York Film Festival and RTS. He was also given Timor’s highest civilian honour, the Order of Timor.

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Born Max Christopher Wenner, he grew up in Lancashire, attending Stoneyhurst College. He took his mother’s name, Stahl, in the 1990s.

Originally an actor and director, he joined Blue Peter in 1978. After 3 years, he left, first returning to acting, before concentrating on journalism, working as a war correspondent in Beirut during the Lebanon Civil War as well as undertaking investigative journalism in Latin America and the Balkans.

He went to Timor-Leste when tourism restrictions were relaxed, originally to shoot a travel film about diving.

“After winning awards for his coverage of the Santa Cruz Massacre, Max could have returned to England. The son of an Ambassador, Oxford educated, he had many choices before him. He chose to stay with us. He learned our language and traveled across the island, filming and interviewing, recording our history, and celebrating our people,” added Ramos-Horta.

“Max has also documented our joy, our families, our music, our rebirth as an independent democracy. He has wept with us, yes. But he has also celebrated, laughed, and loved with us.”

He continued:

“The history of Timor-Leste can never be written without the story of Max Stahl. Timor-Leste owes him a debt of gratitude that can only be partially repaid by honoring him as the man who arrived from foreign shores and walked with us on our darkest nights, came with us into the light of day, and helped to shape our nation forever. We bless Timor-Leste’s treasured son.”

He died in hospital in Australia, surrounded by his wife, Ingrid and 4 children.

 

[Photographs – José Ramos-Horta, via Facebook]

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