Mads Brügger on Becoming 'The Ambassador'
Download our interview with the director of the new Drafthouse doc
By Richard Whittaker, 4:32PM, Wed. Sep. 5, 2012
It takes rare nerve to walk into a pariah state like the Central African Republic without a safety net. But Danish documentarian Mads Brügger, maker of new Drafthouse Films release The Ambassador, freely admits, "I became obsessed with the place, bordering on becoming a Central African Republic nerd."
Click above to hear or download the full audio of our interview with Brügger, where he talks about making the film, how he blended journalism and performance art, the moral problems of filming under cover, and the dangers of reporting in what he called "the most horrifying but also the most fascinating piece of Africa you will find."
His trip was more than just sight seeing. Instead, with a consular passport and diplomatic credentials purchased from Liberia, he mounted a risky undercover effort to create a blood diamond smuggling operation. The film is not just about the insanity of diplomacy as a tradeable commodity, but an examination of power, deceit, and the unseen, terrifying role that France has played in destabilizing the heart of Africa. As Marc Savlov wrote in his review, "We bear witness, via Brügger's film, to the slow-motion train wreck that high-echelon, African graft becomes. It's daring, gonzo filmmaking that will keep you awake at night, wondering what to do."
Here are some highlights of our chat with Brügger:
On picking the Central African Republic: "After having conceived of the idea that, if I were able to purchase diplomatic title, that it would be a very interesting starting for doing a genre-deviating, experimenting Africa documentary, my next question was where in Africa? I was interested from the start in doing it in a very extreme kind of Africa. So I had a meeting in Denmark with a very famous Africa journalist [Peter Tygesen]. He's known amongst his colleagues is Congo Peter, and I told him about my idea, and I asked him, where would you do this? He immediately said, 'The Central African Republic.'"
On buying a consular position: "In 2007, by chance, I stumbled upon a diplomatic title brokerage on the Internet with a menu card where you could choose between various consular and diplomatic titles, and it pretty much grew from there. Of course, there are a lot of scammers out there, but some of them are definitely bona fide and the real McCoy."
On the anarchy in central Africa, and the role of France in the chaos: "Most people in the West, at least, think of these places as countries with state structures and a management, a government that functions and operates logically and has at least some kind of integrity. But once you experience these places at close hand, you realize how completely dysfunctional they are. Many of these countries are the last places on the planet where you can change the course of history with 400 soldiers, which France really exploits. Of course, then there is Rwanda, where France played a very sinister and highly problematic part. And that war was also very much a war between Anglophone and Francophone Africa."
On Guy-Jean Le Foll Yamande, former French Foreign Legionaire, head of State Security in the Central African Republic, and one of Brügger's key sources: "He was the ultimate French nightmare. He was one of their own monsters who had joined the dark side and gone against it. He knew all the things that France does not want the world outside of the CAR to know about. And what I appreciate about him in the film is that a great many things he is saying you would normally hear from an NGO or a scholar in Africa studies. But because it is coming from him it is a lot more credible and terrifying."
On worrying about being recognized from his other films: "Journalists use Google a lot, so they tend to think that everybody else is Googling everybody else. That is, lucky for me, not something that many people do in Africa. Of course, I had anxieties in that regard, that at one point people would say, 'Wait a minute, you seem oddly familiar.'"
Drafthouse Films' The Ambassador is now available on VOD and is screening in Austin, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco before expanding this weekend. Visit DrafthouseFilms.com for more details and release dates.