2014 Sundance Docs in Focus: WE COME AS FRIENDS

we come as friendsToday wraps up with the penultimate World Cinema Documentary Competition entry: From France/Austria, Hubert Sauper’s WE COME AS FRIENDS, an unorthodox exploration of neocolonialism in South Sudan.

Sundance Program Description:

As war-ravaged South Sudan claims independence from North Sudan and its brutal President, Omar al-Bashir, a tiny, homemade prop plane wings in from France. It is piloted by eagle-eyed documentarian Hubert Sauper, who is mining for stories in a land trapped in the past but careening toward an apocalyptic future.

Like his flying machine, Sauper intuitively zooms in for close-ups and out for perspective, yielding shocking and profound insights about the contours of contemporary colonialism. A Chinese company extracts 300,000 barrels of oil a day as locals outside its gates die from water poisoned by the plant. Texas missionaries set up shop—erecting fences, issuing solar-powered electronic bibles, and insisting on clothing naked villagers. Encounters with opinionated Sudanese citizens, U.N. workers, an elder who has unwittingly signed away 600,000 hectares of community land, or financiers at a Sudanese investment summit bring into focus foreign fantasies—insidious and overt, with or without guns—of possessing Africa. Brimming with visual metaphor and grounded in honest human contact, WE COME AS FRIENDS is an electrifying collage of horrifying, but sometimes poetic, contradictions.

Some Background:
This is the second part of a projected trilogy exploring slavery, colonization, and globalization, following the already completed first part, the Oscar-nominated DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE, which debuted at Venice in 2004. Sauper has been to Park City before, serving as a juror for the 2009 World Documentary Competition. Joining him as producer is Gabriele Kranzelbinder, who co-produced Sundance doc short FAST FILM (2004) and more recently produced MUSEUM HOURS; and as cinematographer, Barney Broomfield, who executive produced Sundance alum BIGGIE AND TUPAC (2002).

Why You Should Watch:
The strength of Sauper’s DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE alone should entice audiences for this thematic follow-up, but for audiences who have not yet seen the earlier film, they should be prepared for the same kind of unflinching, unsettling exposé of the exploitation of Africa in the interests of the developed world. Foregoing a lesson in historical colonization – terrain intelligently and provocatively explored in fellow World Cinema Documentary Competition title CONCERNING VIOLENCE – Sauper instead focuses on its more insidious present-day forms, wisely localized in the example of a single, newly-formed nation. Like a space explorer landing on a strange new world, the director exits his makeshift aircraft on several reconnaissance missions to make sense of the competing neocolonial interests operating in South Sudan and the cost its people must bear as a result of their activities.

More Info:
As they become available, I’ll link to the film’s website, Sauper’s Meet the Artist Sundance video profile and to his Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2014 Twitter list.

1 Comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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