Friday, July 23, 2010

Bailey/Thompson's MUGABE & THE WHITE AFRICAN puts religious faith to the test

TrustMovies' head-
line would seem to indicate that the new documentary from Lucy Bailey (shown below, right) and Andrew Thompson  (below, left) concerns religion. It does, but it is about much more than that. Yet, by its finale, the most lasting impression made on me concerned the part in all this played by religion: the faith in "god" shown by the sad, buffeted and beaten (literally) white farm family who dares to stand up to Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe and then endures his wrath as its case very slowly makes its way to the international court.

MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN is a difficult film to sit through because the deck seems so stacked against its protagonists, Michael Campbell (below, right) and his wife, his daughter Laura and son-in-law Ben Freeth (below, left).  We meet these people and spend time with them, as well as with some of the black workers for whom the family's very large farm provides work and income.  We also meet Freeth's family members, who, it is clear, have some misgivings about his whereabouts, though they support him, as good parents will, despite their fears.

We watch, first with concern, and then shock and horror as some of these misgivings come about.  We travel with Michael and Ben to the South African venue of the international court, where... well, you'll find out. We see the family threatened (below) and more, and we listen as they explain (and the filmmakers show) that there is no doubt that this family owns its farm legally and always has for the past several decades. But, due to Mugabe's "reclamation" of white-owned land -- supposedly to be given to poor blacks but in reality gifted to Mugabe supporters and friends -- the Campbell/Freeth clan is about to lose everything.

Why do they stand against a murderous African dictator?  First, it's the "principle of the thing" -- a phrase one hears (and witnesses examples of) less and less frequently in our times.  Even more strongly present is the enormous faith in god and his "will" that family members seem to possess.  They are Anglican, I believe, and their faith is generations old and evidently rock-solid.  The results of it are certainly on display by the end of the movie.

Filmmakers Bailey and Thompson show immense bravery in making this film and sticking it out with the family (who shows its own immense bravery), as its tale unfolds.  While you, as did I, may have a pile of questions at the ready during the movie, most of these will be swept aside by the very "emergency" nature of so much that transpires. If the film appears "homemade," that's because it is -- and we are probably lucky to have it at all.  By the end of its 94-minute running time, I and the companion with whom I viewed the film, were both shaken, depressed -- and truly confused about what we were expected to take away from this documentary. I don't think the movie means to be anti-religion/anti-god, but for the thinking person, there is hardly another conclusion to be drawn.

Mugabe and the White African, distributed by First Run Features, after its appearance at the Seattle International film Festival this past spring, opens today, Friday, July 23, in New York City at the Cinema Village.

Further playdates, with cities and theaters, can be found here.

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