Home > Home, Opinion > The Ambassador; How white diplomats use Africa for diamond trade and other pleasures.

The Ambassador; How white diplomats use Africa for diamond trade and other pleasures.

December 6, 2011

Photo: Pressphoto/Johan Stahl Winthereik

By Eline Hædersdal

The documentary film The Ambassador, directed by Mads Brügger Cortzen, reveals the underworld of white businessmen and diplomats, which uses their position in a corrupt society of the Central African Republic (CAR) and Liberia.

“I want to show an Africa stripped of NGOs, Bono, child soldiers and kids with bloated bellies, to show the kind of people you never see in the documentaries: white businessmen and diplomats, the fat cats in the urban centres, all the people who are in postcolonial Francafrique having a great time,” says Mr. Cortzen.

The film opened the world’s largest documentary festival, International Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), which toke place Nov. 16-27.

The Danish film company Zentropa, which produced the film, says to Amsterdam Today that they, together with Mr. Cortzen, are very pleased and proud that the film opened the IDFA.

“We are of course very happy that The Ambassador was chosen as starting film from all the documentaries in the IDFA 2011; the worlds largest documentary festival. It is a great honour.” Says Assistant Producer Julie Elmquist E. Neergaard, from Zentropa films, Denmark.

The documentary questions not only the diplomatic white men’s positions, but also the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s role in the system since she signed the document of Mr. Cortzen’s fake diplomatic title.

The president won, together with two other women, the Nobel Peace prize on Oct. 7. Cortzen finds this very odd due to his findings about her and the people around her.

“In the film I’m dealing with her right hand … it is Liberia’s most powerful corporation lawyer H. Varney G. Sherman, who facilitates that I, with an amount of 35,000 dollars, which will go to her presidential campaign, can become General Consultant for Liberia in the Central African Republic … it’s surprisingly close to Ellen Johnson” said Cortzen to Danish TV2 News on the day of the award’s announcement.

Cortzen questions her judgement to elect him, on false papers, as Ambassador of her country.

“You might think that it’s odd that she has not considered why a man, without connections to either the Central African Republic or Liberia, should be ambassador in the Central African Republic representing her” says Cortzen to Amsterdam Today.

Nevertheless Cortzen acknowledges that she possibly fits best for the role as president compared to other officials in the country.

“I prefer Ellen Johnson as president at any time compared to, for instance, Prince Y. Johnson, who is Charles Taylor’s companion during the civil war until they split, because he is absolutely mad, insane, and simply a murderer” said Cortzen to TV2 News.

He also stated: “I am aware that it should be celebrated that this is Africa’s first female president”.

Not surprisingly, the film has mainly got positive feedback from film-critics.

“Balled with beard, riding pants and boots up until his knees Brügger has made his title as a ‘diplomat’ in The Ambassador clear, as Müller from the Tin Tin universe. It is a design that works and it underlines the more grotesque moments of the film,” says Jacob Wendt Jensen, film-critic from the Danish large newspaper Berlingske. Jensen gave The Ambassador 4 starts out of 5.

However the film-reviewer Kim Skotte from Politikken, another large Danish newspaper, has very strong opinions against the film.

“It is not much of a documentary film when you self-promote your self, using cigars, bribes and lies to provoke the absurdities. In-between the black, whom are stupid or sneaky, and the white who all are devious, Mads Brügger shines as the master in his own absurd circus, while the pigmies are left to them selves. I think The Ambassador is too self-centered,” says Skotte in his review of the film.

Assistant producer of the documentary, Neergaard, does not wish to comment much on the review. She says to Amsterdam Today: “Kim Skotte has his full right to have his opinion.”

The documentary is mostly shot using a hidden camera, since the statements and actions will be impossible to capture in any other way.

Mr. Cortzen uses ‘performative jounalism’ to act as a main character in his own film, taking the role of a white Danish citizen coming to the Central African Republic with Liberian diplomat credentials.

“I dress for my part and interact as an agent provocateur,” says Cortzen.

The plot is Mr. Cortzen coming to CAR to become a Liberian ambassador. Here he starts a match factory run by Pygmies to cover up his illegal trade of diamonds.

The satirical humour of the film is clear. One scene shows Cortzen playing a whale-song tape to his two Pygmy assistants. Another, showing him dancing with a group of Pygmies with an assistant standing ready with an umbrella for the white balled Diplomat.

When watching the film the message quickly becomes clear – to reveal the illegal businesses of particular white men in countries as CAR; using their powerful positions and the corrupt poor society to earn millions on illegal trades with diamonds.

The society Cortzen illustrates has many dark sites; so dark that many wants to escape from it. In his diary Cortzen says: “even minister Gaston [Garston Mackouzangba, Minister of Civil Service, Labor and others, of CAR] said … ‘Please Mr. Cortzen, please, help me, please, help me, help my daughter’ he begged” writes Cortzen .

It is the direct message and the way in which the film reveals the system that makes The Ambassador interesting. Ally Derks, founder and president of the IDFA talked about the importance of freedom of expression in her opening speech of the festival Nov. 16. She refered to The Ambassador.

“It is still a core purpose of any documentary to defend the rights to free expression and free speech. To challenge – or be challenged by – ethical boundaries, as tonight’s film aptly demonstrates,” says Derks.

Marjolein den Bakker from IDFA, Press Department, says to Amsterdam Today that Derks chose the film to start of the famous festival, possibly do to the qualities she described in her opening speech. Derks confirms this to Amsterdam Today.

As imagined, The Ambassador has caused discussions and some of the people, being revealed in the film, to deny their illegal businesses. This includes the Dutch businessman Willem Tijssen denying any illegal businesses and has previously tried to prevent the screening of the film.

At the screening of the film in Amsterdam’s Tuschinsky cinema the director and the businessman met each other. Cortzen explaines to the Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant, that the atmosphere was tense when the two ran in to each other. “It was a bizarre situation” says Cortzen.

“If Tijsen was my PR agent, then I’d say ‘Good job’” says Cortzen, implying that Mr. Tijsen’s anger worked to the director’s own advantage; enforcing the message of the documentary.

The Ambassador competed in the IDFA category of the best feature-length documentary. Neergaard said she thought The Ambassador had good chances.

“I think the possibility of The Ambassador winning an award is quite high, especially since we were selected to start the whole festival, that must mean something. … We are so excited to see the results in the end of the month.”

On Nov. 25. the winning awards of the IDFA was presented. The Ambassador did not win a prize.

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