The US Documentary Competition heads into the homestretch with Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K Walker’s WELCOME TO LEITH, the story of a small town facing a hostile takeover.
Sundance Program Description:
In September 2012, the tiny prairie town of Leith, North Dakota, saw its population of 24 grow by one. Trouble had come to town.
The newcomer was Craig Cobb, a notorious white supremacist. Quietly snapping up plots of land, he planned to take over the town government and establish Cobbsville, a haven for white separatists. In organizing a rally of supremacists and neo-Nazis and courting them to take up residence, Cobb does not endear himself to Leith. As his behavior becomes more threatening, tensions soar, and the residents desperately look for ways to expel their unwanted neighbor.
This chronicle of a rural community’s struggle for sovereignty amidst extremism quite cleverly maneuvers us into an uncomfortable confrontation with our own values. Like the residents, we feel our anger escalate, but as disturbing and hateful as his racist attitudes are, Cobb is afforded certain protections under the law. The unsettling underpinning of WELCOME TO LEITH is how we wrestle with our democratic principles when they’re pushed to the limit.
This project is Michael Beach Nichols’ third feature documentary; his second, FLEX IS KING, was produced and edited by fellow producer/director/editor Christopher K Walker, and debuted at Tribeca. Working with them as producers are Joey Carey, a Sundance alum with the fiction films OBVIOUS CHILD (2014), 28 HOTEL ROOMS (2012), PARIAH (2011), and LITTLE BIRDS (2011); as well as Jenner Furst and Joshua Woltermann (also an editor here), who both worked with Nichols on the Sundance Channel doc series BRICK CITY. Executive producers are Stefan Nowicki, who served in the same role for Carey’s alumni titles, and Julia Willoughby Nason.
Why You Should Watch:
I previously profiled the project during its crowdfunding campaign. Nichols and Walker capture the conflict between Cobb’s group and the existing Leith residents as it unfolds, through genuinely frightening standoffs with palpable tension and raw emotions on either side. For both camps, it’s evident that Leith becomes the front line in a cultural war, with Cobb’s sense of entitlement and his tactics of intimidation pitted against a small town whose residents won’t allow change to be forced on their community by outsiders without a fight.
For more information, visit the film’s Facebook page. For Walker and Nichols’ thoughts on the film, check out their Sundance Meet the Artists profile and 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 2015 Twitter list.