I am rarely left speechless when conducting an interview, but on August 19, 2015, when WE COME AS FRIEND’s Hubert Sauper told me about how a group of Christian missionaries from Texas had convinced their Sudanese converts about the truth of the resurrection, I all but collapsed in bemused disbelief. It’s towards the end of our conversation, and I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the surprise.
In his award-wining documentary, Sauper traces the beginnings of Sudan’s problems with colonialism back to the ancient Egyptians, who treated Sudan, as he put it, like their version of the third world. It’s an example of how nimble his mind is, and how profound his thought process when it comes to contemplating the current state of affairs in that region, since divided into North Sudan and South Sudan, or parsing the meaning of documentary filmmaking in the modern world.
Citing inspiration from King Leopold’s Ghost, by his friend Adam Hochschild, and a theory about the origins of racism that will rock your paradigms, Sauper went on to discuss the his take on the socio-political situation in Central Africa, what it was like to hop about the country in the airplane he built himself., a plane that some have called a “lawnmower on wheels”, and the necessity of always questioning both motives, even our own, and the consequences of them. We also discussed the stunning visual component of the film. I can honestly say that I have never seen a better edited film of any genr
At the end, and not with a modicum of glee, Sauper went into detail about the Texas company involved in a land grab that has essentially displaced people form the land their families have lived on since time out of mind. We finished up with the filmmaker revealing a surprising, and a little known, connection between the Reagan Administration and the land grab going in the area today.
WE COME AS FRIENDS is his documentary about good intentions, cynical corruption, and colonialism in the 21st century. Sauper and his crew, including co-pilot Barney Broomfield, criss-crossed Sudan in a home-made airplane he dubbed Sputnik, as that country divided itself into two countries with the chaos inherent in that process. Touching down in oil fields run by the Chinese, missions run by evangelical Texans, peacekeeping forces sent by the U.N., and villages trying to cope with the violence of outside forces that reduce them to virtual refugees on their ancestral lands , he creates a powerful collage of a country rich in natural resources, and therefore the object of outside interests who exploit them for reasons that run the gamut from selfless to self-serving. Sauper’s previous work includes the Oscar™-nominated documentary, DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE.