New film is a gut-wrenching look at Bali Nine execution

More than two years after the execution of Bali Nine ringleaders Myuran Sukumaran??? and Andrew Chan, artist and filmmaker Matthew Sleeth??? is still furious about what he considers a pointless loss of life in an act of political theatre.

"I'm angry for Myuran," he said before the world premiere of a film on Sukumaran's final 72 hours at the Adelaide Film Festival on Sunday. "I'm angry for the political nature of it.

"This was done for political gain in Indonesia and had nothing to do with justice. And I'm angry for what the family is still going through."

Having joined Ben Quilty??? in teaching art workshops at Bali's Kerobokan prison for five years, Sleeth struggled to deal with the emotion over the execution of a man he knew as a mate.

"Because I lived with it and went through it, it was horrifying," he said. "It was something that wasn't going to go away."

Sleeth has channelled that emotion into Guilty, a gut-wrenching film that chronicles the tense last days before the execution on April 29, 2015.

In recreating scenes in the prison and then on the so-called execution island of Nusakambangan???, the film is full of small, telling details - Sukumaran sketching a guard who has shown interest in his art; the setting-up of the execution site on a soccer field; the laying out of three live bullets among nine blanks so the marksmen never know who fired the fatal shots; an "X" being painted above the heart on the condemned prisoners' white T-shirts.

With lookalike Adam McConvell??? playing Sukumaran, the film uses news footage and radio commentary to capture the swirling public debate about the execution and show the family's distress as Indonesian President Joko Widodo??? ignored pleas to spare the two men's lives.

"This film was a way to try to do something out of a very traumatic situation for everybody involved," Sleeth said. "After living through it and watching the excruciating slowness of it and the intimacy of it and the effect it has on families and the lawyers and anyone else who really came into contact with it, I was completely convinced - even more than I was before - about how wrong the death penalty is.

"And also how powerful art can be sometimes to have the conversations we find difficult to have."

Sleeth considered Sukumaran a genuinely talented artist.

"He got to the point he was quicker than anyone I've ever seen and was more determined to learn than any student I've ever seen," he said. "And he worked harder than anyone I've ever seen.

"Part of the waste of this - and part of the anger at this - is about the art that isn't going to be made."

Sleeth also wanted the film to be about the importance of giving a second chance to someone like Sukumaran.

"It's not something we do well as a culture," he said. "I was very determined that this wasn't a film that was just cheap shots at Indonesia, even though I'm clearly very angry with how the Indonesians dealt with this situation. But it's about a kind of generosity that we might not have as much as we think we do."

Sleeth insisted the film was not defending the Bali Nine's crimes.

"This film isn't an apology for drug-dealing," he says. "Myuran, his family, his lawyers and myself all accepted that what he did was wrong and should be punished.

"This isn't really a film about the crime. It's a film about the punishment."

Two years on, Sleeth remains disappointed by how many Australians supported the death penalty for the pair at the time of their execution.

"What I hope this film achieves is next time this situation happens - and it will happen again - we think a little more carefully about casually calling for the death penalty," he said. "And we think a little bit more about what it means for the families, and for the people that are asked to do it, and how much it diminishes us calling for it."

Sleeth believes Sukumaran was genuinely rehabilitated even before he met him, with painting giving him a voice.

Holding his first workshop at the prison, he was surprised by how quiet and gentle Sukumaran was compared to his public image.

"I'd seen everything in the media like everyone else about how he was the enforcer and he was this and that," he said. "But he was actually relatively shy."

Sleeth spoke to lawyers, family members and others on the scene to build up an accurate picture of what took place in Indonesia, then developed the film through the festival's Hive Lab, which encourages projects that cross artistic boundaries.

"There is an argument for why make a film like this in a country that doesn't have the death penalty," Sleeth said. "But the great advantage that Australia has in this conversation is we don't have the death penalty.

"It's not about domestic political bickering. It's a conversation about what a moral absolute killing other people should be."

The film is expected to get a cinema release next year.

The story New film is a gut-wrenching look at Bali Nine execution first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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