This past weekend, I was lucky enough to see two documentaries at the True/False Fest for free. What more could a journalist ask for?
While part of me wishes I had seen more films, I was thrilled with the two I ended up seeing almost completely by chance. Friday night, I saw “The Ambassador,” a film about a Danish journalist who poses as a Liberian diplomat in the Central African Republic. Saturday night, I saw “Queen of Versailles,” a film about a resort mogul and his family, who’s plan to build the largest house in America was derailed by the economic crisis. Both films were surprisingly comical, but the difference was stark. The combo made for a great movie-going weekend.
In order to get extra credit in my art class, I needed write a response to one of the films I saw. I went back and forth about which to write about, but chose “The Ambassador.” Here’s what I wrote:
“One of the two films I saw this weekend at True/False was “The Ambassador.” The documentary is the story of Mads Brugger, who decides to pose as a Liberian consul to the Central African Republic. This is a surprisingly common practice, primarily because diplomats can travel with out being searched and can smuggle diamonds out of the countries they travel to.
From a journalistic point of view, it raised a few questions about ethics. In one of the first scenes of the documentary, we see a man tell Brugger that he has asked him to leave his things at the door because he is afraid of being recorded. The moment is the epitome of dramatic irony, and elicited a hearty laugh from the audience. Secret recordings made up a large portion of the films. In all scense, either the camera was hidden or the people being filmed believed it to be a still camera, as revealed by Brugger in his Q&A following the film. The issue of ethincs was addressed by one person’s question posed to Brugger about how his idea of ethics has changed over his career as a Danish journalist. In his response, Brugger pointed out that the Central African Republic is a place where rules don’t apply. This was the overarching theme demonstrated not just in the filmmaking techniques but also in the political practices exposed.
The one issue I took with the film is the portrayal of the pygmies. When Brugger introduces a fake scheme to create a match factory, he says he will market them as being made by pygmies, because Africans love magic. It is not clear through out the film whether Brugger is mocking the Africans or the western perception of Africans, and I hope it is the latter. But even if that is true, I found one scene in particular problematic. The scene entirely consists of Brugger is sitting at a desk playing whale calls for the pygmies. They sit there unfazed, taking in the odd sounds. There seems to be no purpose for this exercise beyond Brugger’s amusement, and similarly, the scene seems to have no purpose in the film beyond comic effect.
But the most fantastic element of the film was the specific brand of humor it employed. In his Q&A, Brugger quoted Woody Allen saying “comedy is tragedy plus time,” and while it does not directly apply, it is the best way to describe the type of humor in this film. The situations are often horrible, but so far removed from the audience that it takes on an absurd characteristic. It is a type of sadness that one cannot help laughing at.
Another great characteristic of the film was the lack of obvious morals. It exposed lots of corruption concerning politics in Africa and the diamond trade, but Brugger never vocalized any judgments of this. The audience could merely bear witness to it, instead of being forced to suffer through a lecture about it. Overall, it was an incredible exploration of place that many people have never heard of.”