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Completion   /  Melanie Filler

Aceh: beyond the tsunami

Extraordinary untold stories of grieving, healing and rebuilding from survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia.


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  • DIRECTOR Tim Barretto

  • PRODUCER Melanie Filler, Ben Mortley



ACEH: BEYOND THE TSUNAMI explores the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in the worst effected region of Aceh, Indonesia where approximately 170,000 lives were lost.

The disaster was widely interpreted as a divine warning against immorality and a call to end decades of civil war. Overshadowed by accounts from other regions affected by the tsunami, the extraordinary impact on Aceh remains largely untold.

Through the vivid recollections of 10 Acehnese survivors, ACEH: BEYOND THE TSUNAMI explores processes of grieving, healing and rebuilding. The film sheds a unique light on how the Acehnese responded to their tremendous loss with a renewed religious devotion, becoming the only province in Indonesia to formally practice Shariah law.

Discover the incredible resilience of the Acehnese people as they reflect on the transformative force of the tsunami over the past decade, and convey the fascinating complexities of life today in a rapidly modernising yet deeply conservative region.

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Issue Summary

A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing

Indonesia is one of Australia’s nearest & perhaps least understood neighbours. The past decade has seen fragile & fluctuating diplomatic relations, the declining study of Indonesian language in Australian institutions and broad misconceptions around religion & culture with many Australians having little experience of Indonesia beyond Bali. As the world’s third largest democracy with a rapidly accelerating economy & spectacularly diverse archipelago, Indonesia has so much to offer. Deepening our insight into Indonesia’s complex culture & history is a vital step in rejuvenating this important relationship.

The overwhelming majority of casualties from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami occurred in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Yet we have heard more from other countries & demographics impacted by the disaster than we have from locals in Aceh. There remains much to learn about the disaster's profound consequences in Aceh, especially as Australians have invested so much in Aceh’s reconstruction.


What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?

This documentary gives voice to untold stories of survival, rebuilding & resilience from our Indonesian neighbours, exploring the positive impact of global aid & the long term effects of disaster & recovery. It illuminates Indonesia’s diverse regional cultures & histories, unravelling stereotypes & promoting deeper insight, empathy & engagement. Against sensationalised depictions of Islam, the film presents a nuanced perspective on the role of religion in the world’s largest Muslim nation.


What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?

• Provide an important historical archive of untold experiences from local survivors whose voices have often been eclipsed.
• Provide an educational resource exploring the psychological & socio-political intricacies of rebuilding communities after disaster & the long term effects of trauma & recovery.
• Foster a nuanced understanding of the role of religion in the world’s largest Muslim nation.
• Help bridge the cultural gap between Australia & Indonesia by deepening awareness & understanding.
• Humanise & personalise our neighbours & their experiences despite fluctuating diplomacy and periods of distrust between our governments.
• Promote Indonesia’s regional diversity & encourage audiences to study, travel & engage.
• Contribute to a more curious, open and engaged society with greater respect for cultural & religious difference and a more harmonious & interactive relationship in our Asian region.


How will this documentary achieve its outcomes?



How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?

We have hosted screenings in both Australia & Indonesia in partnership with the Tsunami Museum Aceh, Australian Consortium of In Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS), Reel Oz Ind & Australia Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA) branches around the country. Several screenings have been fundraisers for UNICEF Australia's important work with youth in humanitarian crises. We welcome interested organisations, educators & individuals to contact the filmmakers to discuss future screenings or partnership possibilities.

Audience Engagement and Social Impact

What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?

• Greater awareness of the aftermath of this global disaster in Aceh & the diversity of cultures & histories across Indonesia’s many islands.
• More empathetic understanding of the experiences & struggles of communities in our region.
• Nuanced perception of the role of Islam in moderate Indonesia & how a more conservative religious practice has evolved in Aceh’s unique context.
• Increase interfaith / intercultural discussion leading to a more pluralist, welcoming & interactive society.
• Deeper understanding of the long term effects of disaster & the profound significance of humanitarian aid & development programs. Audiences may be inspired to support humanitarian efforts in our region. Aid workers may find some useful insights to incorporate into their work.
• Feel encouraged to connect with Indonesian communities in Australia, and also to explore other regions of Indonesia through study or travel.

Measurement and Evaluation

What is the projects indicators for success?

• Conversations & connections created at screenings in Australia & internationally.
• Discussion & interaction generated on our social media platforms.
• Other indicators include the film’s selection & recognition through awards at international film festivals and its use by educational institutions.