Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Ambassador, the film

(It is a tragic coincidence that this film opens in Denver the same week an American ambassador is murdered in North Africa)

Blood Diamonds. Their pursuit and the way they are pursued is the latest vehicle for Danish documentary film maker Mads Brugger. Posing as a diplomat, Brugger documents how one might go about becoming a ‘diplomat’ in Africa with the goal of obtaining millions of dollars in diamonds then leaving Africa with the stones hidden in ‘diplomatic’ luggage.
The locale is the Central African Republic (CAR), a country awash in natural resources but also awash in corruption.

The film is a documentary but it feels like a fictional black comedy made to seem like a crudely done documentary. I had to keep reminding myself while watching it that it really was a documentary and not some knockoff of Borat. But make no mistake this is an excellent film. It is shocking, disturbing, hilarious and very entertaining.
I found myself laughing while at the same time being aware that the situations being shown were not only dangerous but life-threatening. The head of internal security for the CAR is murdered some time after being filmed by Brugger.

Brugger poses as a somewhat naïve but racist white man attempting to buy diplomatic status from Liberia to the CAR. Yes, he is a white man attempting to be a diplomat from one African nation to another but that, apparently is not that unusual. He contacts brokers who specialize in obtaining diplomatic status for someone willing to pay the price – who knew - in this case, 150,000 Euros.

Wearing outlandish ‘colonial’ garb and sporting cigarette holders Brugger arrives in the CAR, though his diplomatic status remains somewhat in doubt.

He throws parties and regales his guests with inappropriate and racist comments and appears very naïve. He comes across to the corrupt officials and others he deals with as the perfect mark.

Under the cover of building a match factory to be staffed by pygmies, he sets about obtaining the blood diamonds.

The film is shot with hidden cameras but also unobtrusively with a Canon EOS 7D. Because the Canon looks like a Digital Single Lens Reflex still camera, it was possible to shoot high-definition video with sound without the subjects realizing it.

The film is disturbing and controversial, but very watchable. It also reveals the terrible circumstances that exist in the Central African Republic (and in Liberia) and is another take on the tragedy of blood diamonds.

Brugger's 2010 documentary, Red Chapel had him entering North Korea posing as a communist theatre director.

The film starts Friday, September 14th at the Denver Film Center on Colfax.

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