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Bali Nine doco wants your support

Spiritual director Christie Buckingham backs Execution Island

A crowd-funded documentary about the final hours of Australians on Death Row in Bali seeks to highlight the power of second chances.

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Execution Island aims to present how the Christian faith of “Bali Nine” prisoners Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran radically changed them – and those around them – before their death by firing squad in April, 2015.

Adelaide filmmaker Julian York has received the blessing of Christie Buckingham, the Melbourne minister who was Sukumaran’s spiritual director. Her support for York’s Execution Island stems partly from a vow she made to Sukumaran and Chan just hours before they were executed.

“Both boys asked me if I would continue to speak out against the death penalty.” – Christie Buckingham

Several months before their death, Sukumaran had urged Buckingham to promise that she would continue to “speak up against the death penalty.” She considered this serious request for some time before giving her word.

“On the night of their execution, both boys asked me if I would continue to speak out against the death penalty,” recalls Buckingham about some of the last words Sukumaran and Chan spoke. She answered “yes, absolutely” and she has “continued to speak up; to whomever, wherever, whenever. Whether it’s one person or one thousand people.

“My commitment to the boys was that if [projects about them] would in any way highlight the wrongness of the death penalty, I would be involved. If anything has a purpose, in terms of showing the boys were rehabilitated and that change is possible, I’m happy to be involved in it.”

A busy mother, wife and minister, Buckingham adds that she is not actively seeking opportunities to campaign against the death penalty. But many people have approached her seeking support for projects telling the story of Chan and Sukumaran in Bali’s notorious Kerobokan Prison – the same facility Schappelle Corby was released from at the end of May.

“What can I do to help Christie fulfil that promise?” – Julian York

With a background in acting and directing short films, York was moved by an article Buckingham wrote to mark the first anniversary of Chan and Sukumaran’s deaths. Her vow to the two men “really jumped out” at York.

“As a Christian and a filmmaker, I asked myself, ‘What can I do to help Christie fulfil that promise?’” He felt compelled to contact Buckingham who, in term, was struck by York’s evident passion for the two famous inmates she knew well.

“He could clearly see that the boys were rehabilitated and that the death penalty doesn’t give anyone a second chance,” remembers Buckingham. “Myu and Andrew were completely convinced that people deserve a second chance.”

“Your Christian faith can give you solid grounding, in the worst of circumstances.” – Julian York

“Julian was moved, not just at the boys’ change for themselves but the fact that they had become leaders of reform and rehabilitation inside Kerobokan; their influence had started to spread, even though they were incredibly limited there.” While in prison, Chan became an ordained minister and led English-language church services.

Another documentary about Sukumaran will premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival in October. Guilty focuses on the potency of Sukumaran’s art, while Execution Island will focus on the last three days of Sukumaran and Chan’s lives, narrated from a first-hand perspective by Buckingham. “The fact that these people have changed and it’s provable that they’ve changed, and the death penalty is not a deterrent; this sort of thing needs to be showed,” summarises Buckingham about what she hopes Execution Island can share.

Seeking a budget of $100,000, the documentary needs to crowd-fund at least $10,000 this year to ignite production. York hopes people from all walks of life will support his project, but he is eager for support from Christian funders to underscore how “your Christian faith can give you solid grounding, in the worst of circumstances.”

“We are certainly not condoning what they did. They never condoned what they did.” – Julian York

“I was re-evaluating my own faith in that light, thinking that Andrew and Myuran were probably freer than most Christians are in the free world. I mean, they had such confidence in Christ, who they were going to meet, and that actually helped them through those last 72 hours. Speaking with Christie about them, they were very much at peace in the lead-up to their execution.”

“There is that element of second chances, and they were given a second chance through their faith. But the world didn’t necessarily give them a second chance. We are certainly not condoning what they did. They never condoned what they did; they took full responsibility and they worked tirelessly to educate others not to follow the same path.”

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