Twilight Time explores the life and work of ‘insurgent Intellectual’ Desmond Ball (1947-2016). This ‘barefooted academic’ from a minor defence partner ‘down under’ was hailed by Jimmy Carter as “the man who saved the world” as he proved the fallacy of the doctrine of limited nuclear war. His study of Pine Gap - in the heart of Australia’s central desert – infuriated Australia’s defence establishment. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Des could be found trekking deep into the sensitive borderlands of Burma and Thailand advising persecuted minorities on signals intelligence. His work on Australian signals intelligence in Timor-Leste informed Australian citizens on issues governments prefer remain secret. The work and life of Des Ball – his curiosity and commitments - offers a window on Australia’s involvement in nuclear war fighting, mass surveillance, global strategy and defence policy. Des Ball made a difference; his insights are everyday more urgent.
A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing
Australia hosts the world’s largest American military base outside the United States. Yet its functions, capacities and practical effects are little known, even to Australians. These functions are increasingly engaged with war-fighting. We are complicit in illegal wars and targeted killings. When Australia does commit troops to foreign wars no parliamentary approval is required; it is a decision taken by small coterie of Cabinet. Australians need to know more about what is done in our name.
What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?
The project will raise awareness, engender curiosity and achieve a better-informed public. Des Ball’s work repeatedly opened up to wider publics issues usually debated behind the closed doors of defence intelligence institutions. He argued that an informed public was essential if Australia was to advance its own interests. Here audiences who have never heard of Desmond Ball will be absorbed as salient complexity is demystified through an accessible story of an unusual Australian life.
What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?
Focused on creating curiosity, on raising questions and awareness, the project encourages discussion and debate. Groups that gather under the umbrella of IPAN (Independent and Peaceful Australia Network) are an obvious demographic already organised with active and imaginative volunteers concerned about the kinds of questions Twilight Time addresses. ICAN (international Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) - with its origins in Melbourne - now works out of Geneva and has achieved the Nobel Peace Prize for its work on the International Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Australians for War Powers Reform is another grouping of serving and retired military and defence specialists and public servants who share the values canvassed in the film. Longer-term outcomes anticipated include broader and better-informed debate about Australia’s future, governance, civics and the potential for independent Australian foreign policy.
How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?
The project is in development and early production as an independent film rather than as a sponsored film. We have cooperative relationships with family who support the project, and helpful and collegiate relations with ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre that Des Ball led between 1984-1991. Professor Ball spent almost his entire career with the ANU. Other ‘stake-holders’ could include a very wide-ranging cohort of scholars, journalists, military specialists, policy makers and think tanks. ‘Stake-holders’ might include organisations and individuals across a very broad political spectrum from conservative Defence and Foreign Affairs officials through to peace movement activists and intellectuals. As the project progresses welcome productive collaborations with ‘stake-holders’ expands and deepens.
Audience Engagement and Social Impact
What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?
It is hoped that people who see the film will be motivated to ask questions and examine more closely the debates, opinions and policies that impact on Australia’s relations with our neighbours and our future as a democratic country. It is hoped audiences will discuss the film with others. They may be curious, for example, if it matters whether Australia can be a partner to the International Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; they may wish to take action in support of the Treaty. Audiences may be intrigued to learn more about War Powers and how Australian citizens capacity to influence decisions in this space compare with others. People who see the film might remember US President John F. Kennedy’s remark about people we admire and are grateful to: “we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them”. Des Ball’s story is an exemplary instance of one who rigorously examined facts, matching his knowledge with actions.
Measurement and Evaluation
What is the projects indicators for success?
We will be guided in our evaluation of the impact the project has had through qualitative and quantitative research. Audience numbers are important, but qualitative feedback is also important. Critical reception will play a part also, as this can work for, or against films’ passage from one delivery platform to another.