In East Timor, the Uma Lulik (Sacred House) is the centre, the
umbilical cord between past and present t
secure a reservation the living memory and ancient wisdom.

For the dead it is where time stands still, where the story begins anew.
Uma Lulik is the story of the construction of a sacred
house, lived and told by an East Timorese.

A compelling look at East Timor tradition.

BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The uma lulik ('the sacred house’) is a raised, thatched cathedral-like dwelling found in Indigenous settlements of East Timor, where it taps into the population’s core beliefs. Its construction unites villages, its symbolism honours the community’s ancestry, and its restoration every ten years or so is a thing of great spiritual circumstance.

Bearing both the name and profound functionality of the structure, Victor Pereira de Sousa’s hour-long documentary chronicles the construction of one township’s uma lulik. Utilising a bracingly objective style to paint a deeply emotive portrait of a native culture, de Sousa respectfully ingratiates himself into the lives and customs a nation that, despite their close proximity to ours, remains mysterious to all but a few select outsiders.

The enlightened approach de Sousa applies to his subject matter appears to have opened many doors, both literally and figuratively.

The overriding message of Uma Lulik concerns the vast oneness, both past and present, that exists within East Timorese village life. The sacrosanct interior of the hut, darkened due to the traditional design that does not allow for windows, is a home to the spirits of the ancestors that populate the nearby jungles, the animals that share their existence (and, in some challenging scenes, are sacrificed so as their body parts may foretell destinies), and to the wise elders.

In capturing these centuries-old customs, Victor Pereira de Sousa appropriately takes his cues from the very purest of documentary techniques: there is no grandstanding on his part; his camera is patient and kept at a distance; and time spent close to subjects is to chronicle a specific task – builders thatching the roof, women moulding clay into ceremonial pots etc.

The film’s screening at BIFF 2011 is a major coup for the organisers, as Uma Lulik represents the first East Timorese factual film made by an East Timorese filmmaker. The importance of the uma lulik in the lives of the people of East Timor cannot be overstated, yet the filmmaker conveys it in the most beautifully understated ways. A population’s collective memory resides within the walls of the uma lulik, and De Sousa’s quietly compelling work understands that from the very first frame. By the very last, his audience does as well.


52 min