NZIFF interview & review: The Ambassador
Interview with Mads Brugger - director and star of 'The Ambassador'
What made you take the risks you did when making this documentary?
"You know, one could argue gong to the Central African Republic is risky because it is a crazy place, but going there as a diplomat or consul is safer than going there as a regular journalist. Recently a magazine editor printed a story that the EU had given the President's son millions in Euros to pay high ranking military pensions, but he'd spent all the money himself. For printing that the Editor was thrown in prison for 12 years."
When we're you most afraid for your personal safety?
"One occasion not in the film, it was close to the Presidential election. The Police apparatus was concerned by the possibility of outside coups, one night coming back from an expat night club we were stopped by military police. They suspected we were mercenaries, and we were taken to this medieval police station while the Pop band Aqua were paling 'Barbie girl' on the radio. I thought to myself, 'being water boarded while being forced to listen to Aqua would be a torture too far'. We managed to get out of there by speed dialing the Minister.
As a journalist did you fear you had gone too far into a character?
"Well yes, I had to limit myself to a country that wouldn't have the sophistication to research who I was. I kept away from American cocktail party's or places I might be noticed. One night at a party a South African security guard asked to see me eye to eye in the lobby away from everyone, and I thought I had been discovered but he wanted to look me eye to eye because he thought I had the look of a highly seasoned leader of an intelligence agency. I was most flattered."
Your wardrobe as a corrupt diplomat is wonderful, it's Dr Livingston meets corporate fascist - how did you select it?
"I knew that in places like Central African Republic that the only thing that is suspicious is people trying and blend in, so I went over the top with my dress sense. It says that 'if he carries himself like that, he's powerful and maybe a little idiotic'. It's also a fetish fantasy about Africa, so I decided to live out the African fantasy of the white man. Finding the right riding boots was very important, a lot of 1970s footage from Africa. I hug out at the Belgium embassy a lot to look at ambassador dress, how they hold a cocktail, how they hold a cigarette."
Was the level of malice on behalf of the French to keep the Central African Republic a failed state surprise you?
"Yes, I had some idea of the roll of the French in the genocide in Rawanda, but no idea how involved they are in Central African Republic. The French really are manipulating and scheming and all sorts of horrific devious things. The CAR is still the last place where you can change things with 400 soldiers.
There is a small base of French Legionaries based near where I was and I was at a nightclub where Legionnaires were holidaying and the fear of the locals towards the Legionaries was obvious. What surprises me is how France keeps getting away with it."
How did it feel seeing a blood diamond mine?
"That was really a depressing sight to behold, they have small children working in these pits, and many of these diamonds end up in Europe and America, the Kimberly Process isn't working."
Is Africa a new front in a cold war between America & China?
"You could argue that, yes. In regards to rare earth minerals necessary in the use of next generation technology, the skill and magnitude of China in Africa is mesmerizing. The ambitions the Chinese have with Africa are immense, every where the Chinese calling card is a new football stadium. CAR is perfect for China because it is open to outright corruption.
How do you think corruption in Africa can be tackled?
"Good example is the Mo Ibrahim award, it's a large cash reward to african leaders who walk away after being defeated politically. It's difficult each year to find a winner for that award, so that speaks volumes on that. Once you realize the Central African Republic is the ultimate definition in corruption, you can understand it. It invades every relationship, it permeates everything and spirals down, it is the final destruction of the state.
In the next 15-20 years the Central African Republic won't exist. The regime is basically a criminal regime, and will implode.
Director: Mads Brugger
It's Morgan Spurlock on steroids, the hilariously brilliant Mads Brugger takes us on an astounding ride into the murky world of international diplomatic mercenaries where the goal is free access into Africa's blood diamond trade under the cover of diplomatic protection.
The staggering level of corruption he manages to film on camera is given extra weight for authenticity when people involved in the documentary end up dead. The reality of what you are witnessing and the danger Brugger has put himself into keep a tension that goes well beyond watching Sasha Baron Cohen taking the piss, this is documentary making at it's most gonzo guerilla.
One of the best docos of the year.