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Pay To Play

'The Ambassador' exposes corruption in the CAR

By Richard Whittaker, August 31, 2012, Screens

Ever wanted to be a diplomat? Don't bother trying to apply for the job. Just buy yourself a consulate. That's exactly what Danish filmmaker and undercover journalist Mads Brügger did for his new film, The Ambassador. This latest release from Drafthouse Films would make Joseph Conrad weep, as Brügger uses his freshly purchased diplomatic credentials to expose Africa's new heart of darkness – the foreign exploitation of the blood diamond fields of the Central African Republic. For Brügger, the strangest part of his adventure was that no one ever asked why a red-headed Dane was Liberia's consul to this embattled nation. The answer is depressingly simple: Brügger said, "As long as you're able to carry yourself in a business suit and you throw some money around, you're in the loop."

Like most people, Brügger knew little of the CAR, until a diplomat told him about the deal France struck when the U.S. ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Brügger said, "When the U.S. pilot is on the runway in Port-au-Prince with Aristide aboard, he is told, 'Take this guy to the Central African Republic,' and the U.S. pilot had to call the U.S. State Department and ask them, is there really a country called the Central African Republic?'"

Brügger called the region "the most horrifying but also most fascinating piece of Africa," but his film is really a story of three countries: Liberia, which sold him his diplomatic title; the CAR, where war criminals freely run for president; and France, which still treats its old imperial holding as a tool in its broader geopolitical aims. Brügger said, "Compared to how much America gets blamed for, it is really a mystery why no one discusses what France is up to."

So far, he has had no official response to the film from the CAR, although one diplomat told him about a private screening at the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Bangui. Brügger said, "They thought the film was spot on." As for France, Brügger said, there has been "complete silence so far, which is understandable, because the Central African Republic is an enormous taboo in France." The angriest response has come from Liberia. He said, "Ellen Johnson, the president, has said that she wants me arrested and extradited to Liberia."

The Ambassador is available on video-on-demand now and opens in Austin on Aug. 31. For a longer interview with Brügger, visit austinchronicle.com/screens.

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