#Arts and Culture

Max Stahl: Blue Peter host and film-maker who captured East Timor struggle dies

Oct 29, 2021, 10:04 AM

Max Stahl, who went from Blue Peter presenter to award-winning film-maker and East Timor national hero after his footage brought global attention to a massacre there, has died aged 66.

He was known as Christopher Wenner when he co-hosted the BBC children’s programme from 1978-80.

As Max Stahl, he filmed the 1991 massacre of 271 protesters against Indonesian rule in East Timor.

Former East Timor President José Ramos-Horta called him a “treasured son”.

“We honour him as one of the true heroes of our struggle,” Ramos-Horta wrote on Facebook shortly before the film-maker’s death.

Indonesia had ruled the former Portuguese colony since invading in 1975, and Stahl had travelled there in 1991, following the relaxation of restrictions for tourists after 1989.

He heard about a planned protest march to a cemetery after a memorial service for an independence supporter.

Stahl told the BBC in 2016: “I was just getting my camera ready when there was a wall of sound, at least 10 seconds of uninterrupted gunfire. The soldiers who arrived fired point blank into a crowd of a couple of thousand young people.”

He added: “I could easily see that it was only a matter of time before they came to me, and at that point I thought, well, I should move away from here.”

He buried the film in the graveyard, and it was later smuggled out and broadcast around the world.

Ramos-Horta wrote: “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.”

Stahl later revealed how survivors of the Santa Cruz massacre had been brutally killed in the hospital; as well as documenting repression as East Timor declared independence in 1999.