Anthony Baxter talks to Suzanne Kelly about golf, human rights, Robert F Kennedy Junior, politicians, and Glenfiddich. By Suzanne Kelly.
Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney set out some years ago to make a documentary. Their subject was Donald Trump building a golf course on the Menie Estate, and what life was like for the residents. The filmmakers didn’t expect to be arrested for their investigative journalism. Then again, they didn’t expect to win virtually every documentary prize worldwide for the resulting film, either.
But that’s what their first film, ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ did.
‘A Dangerous Game’ is the sequel, and unusually for a documentary, it will be on general release as of Friday 5th September in Scotland, with English cinemas following on the 12th September.
The film premiered in Canada, Sheffield and at the Edinburgh International Film Festival to great acclaim. Anthony Baxter will hold a Question and Answer session and panel discussion after the 5th September 18:30 showing at Cineworld in Aberdeen’s Union Square. On the cusp of its general release.
A brief history of Trump
It was June of 2011 when as a new contributor to Aberdeen Voice I went to Aberdeen’s Belmont Cinema to see the brand new documentary ‘You’ve Been Trumped’, and to interview its makers, Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney.
By way of background, Trump was initially turned down by the Aberdeenshire Council for his grandiose scheme, until Alex Salmond, who had wined and dined with The Donald on both sides of the Atlantic, sashayed in and took the normal planning process away from the shire.
Salmond, who to this day has not visited the Menie residents despite their being his constituents, had the Scottish government hold an inquiry which led to the green light for Trump, concluding that there would be thousands of jobs and that environmental protection was less important than these jobs, jobs which never materialised. Donald Trump got his way.
Perhaps that should that be ‘The Don’ and not the Donald: the BBC has linked him to organised crime in the USA.
The bulldozers moved in, residents refused to move out, even when Trump-employed tricksters tried to buy their homes under false pretences.
Residents were then under siege. Property was destroyed: David Milne’s fence, Michael Forbes’ boat and other possessions. Their water supply pipe was ‘accidentally’ broken by Trump diggers, police threatened residents with arrest if they went through newly erected gates, and private security illegally demanded frequent identity checks.
Susan Munro’s cottage was veritably surrounded by high mounds of earth which blocked the light and blew dirt and dust into her home, also ruining automobile engines. The once wild area became a veritable personal dictatorship with the blessing of the government.
A Dangerous Precedent
So is The Trumpster alone in seeking greenbelt land to manicure into submission? Not at all, as Anthony and ‘A Dangerous Game’ explain.
While much of the new film is concerned with the Menie Estate, it is largely set in Dubrovnik, a beautiful, UNESCO heritage site with a long, important history.
Naturally it is now in the crosshairs of international property developers who want to create a golf resort. These developers will, it seems, get to turn the wilderness area above the city into a resort for the rich golfer, with considerable local government collaboration and contempt for democracy and rule of law easing their path.
This undemocratic modus operandi is happening in many places. What’s wrong with turning legally protected wild areas into golf courses? Nothing, aside from losing public green spaces, wildlife habitat and biodiversity, greenskeeping chemicals which do leech into the water table, and corruption in governments leading to exploitation of resources and contempt for the electorate.
Part of the film shows how towns like Montrose manage to encourage golfing without the environmental destruction, architectural aberration or megalomania. Not so at Menie, not so at Dubrovnik.
A Dangerous Film
The film talks to environmental campaigners, and to Trump and his son. Father and son taped the interviews independently of Anthony, so as to prevent them from being badly edited or being made to look foolish. Heaven forfend.
The new film is again beautifully filmed and edited. However, there are rich and powerful people in several countries who won’t be coming out of this looking very good at all. If ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ stirred the pot, ‘A Dangerous Game’ is potentially explosive.
Playing Catch Up
Anthony has been working nearly non-stop for months, if not years now. We finally get to speak at some length.
“I’m very excited to get the film out, to get the story to the audience.”
“I want to get across the important message about democracy and how it breaks down when those who are supposed to represent us don’t do so.
“It’s unusual to have a documentary released in cinemas. There will be a Q&A session and panel discussions. ‘A Dangerous Game’ will be in cinema multiplexes as well as art house theatres.”
We inevitably discuss the Scottish Referendum. Anthony says:
“This film is not about independence, but it is about our democracy. We have a responsibility to be vigilant, whichever side wins on September 18th.”
The film steers clear of the concurrent Scottish independence referendum debate, but it does not steer clear of criticising those who have earned criticism. It is undeniable that Alex Salmond’s intervention and previous enthusiasm for Trump’s megalomaniacal plans trumped, if you will, due process, existing environmental protection legislation, and the rights of Menie Estate residents.
It somehow feels as if the Menie Estate’s environment and people are being forgotten by the government behind the walls of dirt and sand that Trump had built up around the properties which he called ‘eyesores’ and ‘wanted pulled down’. Alex Salmond is meant to represent the Menie residents, it’s his constituency.
He’s turned down many invitations to come and watch ‘You’ve Been Trumped.’ He has been asked to visit the estate prior to the sequel’s premiere on the 5th September, and to come to the premiere too. Answer comes there none. (I’m still waiting Alex; do come to the Aberdeen screening on the 5th and/or the after party: there are people who would love to speak with you).
“The residents live in Salmond’s constituency, and even after the public outcry and outpouring of sympathy, the Trump organisation continues to make life difficult for them.”
Anthony mentions resident Mickey Foote, who wonders about the ‘duty of care’ or lack thereof, shown by his elected representatives.
“Alex Salmond is of course busy, but in eight years of driving past the area, he has never once visited the residents in their homes.”
Anthony quotes Robert F Kennedy Jr. in the film and to me:
“Wherever you see environmental injury you also see the subversion of democracy. The two things go hand in hand. They always do.”
If it can happen in Scotland in the 21st century, it can certainly happen to Dubrovnik too.
“Something in our democracy is broken and we have to fix it.”
Resident David Milne tried to fix it by starting a petition, among many other actions, to ask for a full inquiry into how the police, Scottish National Heritage, the local government’s planning people and other organisations behaved during and after the controversial planning application favoured Trump’s plans.
No fewer than 19,000 people signed this request, and the Scottish Government petitions committee, seven people, had to take the matter up. Their methodology? To ask all of the organisations in the firing line for grave failures whether they should be investigated or not.
Unsurprisingly, these organisations, all caught in undemocratic actions, declined to be investigated. Clearly confused, the petitions committee also seemed to think that the hearing to grant the planning permission was enough of an investigation to hold, even though actions such as the police failings clearly, obviously occurred after planning was granted.
Many people including me contacted the committee. They refused to explain anything on the matter and it is now permanently closed. When we discuss this, Anthony’s voice changes slightly; he sounds rightly angry.
“David Milne is an ordinary person, he’s not a lawyer and he’s been forced by circumstances to spend great amounts of time just trying to protect his rights and to have this investigation. It’s shocking how he was treated by the committee.”
We discuss the unfairness of this decision and many other issues. He tells me:
“We have every right to expect there will be logic in our democracy.”
I can’t argue, but it’s clear we don’t have much logic going around these days. The bunds blocking light from the Munro house were never part of the planning permission; they are still standing at full height despite what the law says. Gates are locked, stopping people exercising their right to roam.
The Government may not have wanted this issue looked at, despite the request of 19,000 people. However, people power came to the fore in spades when Michael Forbes was voted Top Scot of the Year by the public in Glenfiddich’s annual awards.
The awards night is beautifully captured in ‘A Dangerous Game’, and like the events in Dubrovnik that Anthony and Richard have documented, it serves to show that people can still make a difference when they act together. Baxter and Phinney have demonstrated that even one or two people can make a world of difference as well.
Continuing on the theme of awards, we talk about the nature of Trump the man, and Anthony brings up the award Trump ‘won’ – captured in the film. Trump proudly threw a press conference to announce he received a ‘six diamond award’ and that these ‘aren’t just given out’.
Except they are, if you are connected to the awarding organisation.
“It was a bogus award ceremony held on the Trump course – not a single person there did anything to find out why a 90-year-old woman still has no proper water supply.”
I am completely taken aback: I had no idea that the water pipe broken by the Trump people’s operations so many years ago, leaving them with no running water, has not in all this time been repaired correctly. I am writing again to the Trump organisation; and will advise what the reply is. The web page trumpeting this six diamond award includes two Press & Journal congratulatory articles.
But where was the local press when Molly Forbes was carrying water from a stream in buckets, and Michael and Sheila Forbes were without water as well? In bed with the Trump administration literally, as Evening Express beauty queen ‘face of Aberdeen’ Sarah Malone married Aberdeen Journals Ltd’s Damian Bates; she is a Trump VP at Menie, despite having virtually no relevant previous experience.
Coincidentally, Baxter’s award-winning film concerning a local problem has received virtually no coverage, the residents and politicians standing up to Trump were mocked in the local printed press. We discuss the importance of having a free press that is not beholden to the rich and powerful and which lets people know what is really going on.
Since the Edinburgh premiere, Trump’s been busy. He’s now active in Ireland, and has turned Turnberry into Trump Turnberry. I ask if Anthony will be using any of these developments.
“We’re just tweaking a few details, there is the purchase of the Irish resort. We’ll add some pictures.”
Anthony’s taken time out to speak to me on the morning of his birthday; I don’t want to eat into his day, and we leave it there, for now. The film will be in Aberdeen at Cineworld Union Square and at the links. We will catch up further then.
‘A Dangerous Game’ – Release date 5th September 2014
Donald Trump, Michael Forbes, Alec Baldwin, Karine Polwart, Robert Kennedy Jr.
The 6:30 p.m. screening on the 5th September at Aberdeen Union Square has a Q&A with Director Anthony Baxter and characters from the film. A funny and eye-opening documentary exploring the environmental impact of luxury golf courses around the world.
Three years ago, Anthony Baxter released his entertaining ‘You’ve Been Trumped’. It followed US tycoon Donald Trump’s controversial plan to build a golf resort on Scotland’s beautiful, unspoilt north-east coastline. This was hailed as the best documentary of the year by renowned film critic Mark Kermode.
Now Baxter’s follow-up finds out what happened to Trump’s scheme – and to local farmer Michael Forbes, who refused to sell his land to the billionaire.
This time, Trump agrees to a full interview, which proves to be a memorable encounter! Baxter also broadens his scope to take a look at the ecological cost of similar luxury resorts being constructed for the super-rich in other countries. His travels take him as far afield as China, Las Vegas and Dubrovnik in Croatia. Contributors include environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy and actor and activist Alec Baldwin.
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