What happens when a very white European man buys a diplomatic title which turns him into an African diplomat overnight – right in the middle of one of Central Africa’s most failed nation states?
It puts new meaning into the expression ‘Docu-drama’ and is probably going to cause hot debates but Max Brugger’s form of journalism certainly gets him places that would be closed via the usual routes. Donning the identity and credentials of a diplomat by purchasing a passport, Brugge goes into the murky world of diamond dealing in Central Africa posing as a Liberian Consul.
This conversation we’re about to have never happened,” Wilhelm Tijssen, purveyor of diplomatic passports to the business world
Revealing how easy it is for western businessmen to obtain diplomatic immunity, Brugger has already caused a storm when the Dutch entrepenuer, Willem Tijssen, who helped him obtain the passport, flew from Africa to Europe to complain on Dutch TV and radio that he’d been conned. Seemingly missing the irony of a conman complaining of being duped, the effect of this has been to give Brugger plenty of free publicity just before his film launches at the Amsterdam International Documentary Festival. Tarantino couldn’t have bettered the plot…….
Shot entirely with a hidden camera, Brugger’s Consul claims to be setting up a match factory that will be run by ‘pygmies’. While clearly playing the colonial Mzungu “bigman” role with relish, the satirical director was in reality risking not only his neck but the lives of others. After meeting with the head of security, a former legionnaire, the latter is murdered a couple of weeks later. Throughout the film the director’s ethics are questionable.
While role playing for investigative journalism is as old as the hills, the Indian Tehelka sting that caused government minister Walter Fernandes to fall, springs to mind as a more recent example, Brugger seems at times closer to Borat than Woodward and Bernstein. However, this is not the first time that Brugger has crossed the line from a directorial role to that of a thespian to get closer to the kill.
With more than 12 years in Danish television presenting the The 11th Hour a talkshow cum investigation programme, in 2009 Brugger picked up a gong by winning the World Cinema Documentary Competition at Sundance for The Red Chapel, a film shot in North Korea where he posed as a communist theatre director. For Brugger, controvesry gets results and raises his profile.
Back in the Central Africa Republic, Brugger seems to relish his role in proving the futility of Kimberly for conflict diamonds. In a country that, as he describes in an interview with the Danish Film Institute: “..
.seemed like a good jumping-off point for a film about Africa stripped of NGOs, sarongs, Bono, child soldiers and kids with bloated bellies, a film about the kind of people you never see in documentaries on Africa: white businessmen and diplomats, the fat cats in the urban centres”.
No doubt that Brugger’s methods will be contentious to many and for sure he skates on ethically thin ice, but he tries to counter this by saying he got results – for Brugger the ends justify the means…… He certainly exposes the hypocrisy of Francafrique maneovering and the murkiness of the wheeler dealers who thrive in its hinterlands, but where does the white colonial line get drawn? In his interview with the Danish Film Institute, he describes how, on visiting a rural village with a Central African minister, the latter plies the ‘pygmies’ with alcohol. It is Brugger’s response that is unsettling as he tells his assistant in the film: “That’s what the NGOs don’t get. In Africa you can really have fun.”
Why in this day and age even in role play does he call them pygmies? With alcohol and marginalisation as their contemporary fate, why did he have to go for these specific people in his match factory role? It seems that Brugger is yet another in a long line of exploiters. Mads Brugger has consistently claimed that he wants to push the boundaries of journalism, and that aim is laudable. Particularly when journalists are so challenged and representations of Africa are so monosyllabic. The problem is, that the same arguments could be used by others with more questionable motives so where does this idea take us?
Meanwhile, its tipped for another success at Sundance and there’s no doubt that Danish documentary is riding high. UK please note, the Danes support their film industry generously…………