Conceived and Directed by
Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson
First Run Features;
Winner of the 2009 BAFTA Award for Best Documentary, this debut from Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson is the story of Mike Campbell, a white Zimbabwean farming on land for 30 years with his wife, 500 workers and their families, his son and his son's wife. Under the land reformation policies of dictator Robert Mugabe, however, Campbell knows it is simply a matter of time before the land that he purchased in 1978 is stripped away from him. In an attempt to circumvent this repossession, Campbell makes the bold and life-threatening decision to take Mugabe's regime to court. This decision will lead to threats, beatings and torture at the hands of Mugabe's hoodlums.
Filming is banned in Zimbabwe, so Bailey and Thompson are themselves risking their lives to film this documentary. While this risk doesn't necessarily come across often on screen, it does lead to a further appreciation of the film that the two first-time filmmakers have created.
In theory, the idea of land reformation is a popular one in African nations where whites have long held the power while blacks were seen as subservient and, for the most part, forbidden to own land. However, this is Zimbabwe and Mugabe's version of land reformation doesn't so much involve redistribution of the land to the poor, in itself controversial, but redistribution of prized land to those within his own inner circle. As a result, this one rich and prosperous nation has been practically decimated.
The main problem with Mugabe and the White African is that far too often Bailey and Thompson seem to take Campbell at his word, trusting that Mugabe's violent misdeeds, or at least his awareness of violent misdeeds on his behalf, will be enough to sway audiences that Campbell and his family are innocent victims in this entire affair. Anyone with even an ounce of awareness of African history will be aware that, while Mugabe's actions may be completely and utterly reprehensible, there are always two sides to every story.
Not in this film.
It's hard not to watch Mugabe and the White African without becoming frustrated at the overwhelming seeds of conflict, hate and racism that permeate both sides of this story. Yes, Mugabe and his regime are wrong in the way this situation is handled, however, the wrongness of the actions of Campbell and his family feel just as intense for those, at least, who think from a social justice perspective.
Far more a contemplation of colonialism past and present than an inspirational tale of one man's battle against a dictatorial regime, Mugabe and the White African ultimately raises more questions than it answers.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic