Director Mads Brugger discusses his new documentary The Ambassador, currently available on Blu-ray and DVD
Mads Brügger first made his mark on the world of cinema with his documentary The Red Chapel, which took home a Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The Danish director employs a style he calls "performative journalism," which, to me, seems like an amazing cocktail of Fletch, Hunter S. Thompson, and Borat all rolled into one. This provocateur is back with his latest film The Ambassador, where he heads to the Central African Republic, under the guise of a foreign diplomat from Liberia. The filmmaker takes us inside a country that is just as dangerous as it is mysterious, to expose the "blood diamond" trade and government corruption with a style that is incredibly informative and entertaining. I recently had the chance to speak with the director about his new film, which was just released on Blu-ray and DVD. Here's what he had to say.
I read that you first wanted to do a movie like this after hearing about these diplomatic passport agencies. I heard that the government of Liberia was trying to sue you, but I was curious of these diplomatic passport brokers are going after you as well?
Mads Brügger: Well, the President of Liberia had me arrested and extradited to Liberia. He has been very busy on the Internet, slandering me and the film, taking legal action against me and the movie company, Zentropa, but not much has come out of it. He's very angry.
With a film like this, you don't get another take, so to speak. Before you went to the Central African Republic, were there certain aspects of this character you created that you wanted to make sure were intact before heading over there, so no one would suspect you of being an actor or a filmmaker?
Mads Brügger: You know, the Central African Republic really attracts very shady people. Because of that, most people in the country, including people in the government apparatus and the security service, the very idea of someone pretending to be a Liberian diplomat is highly unlikely. My theory was that nobody would suspect that I was actually making a film. That turned out to be true.
Can you talk a bit about the cameras you used? Some of this is shot like a "regular" film, to an extent, but a lot of it was shot on these more covert cameras. A lot of them looked like button cams. Were there any parts of the movie that you weren't able to get, because the cameras weren't in exactly the right place?
Mads Brügger: We brought with us a number of concealed cameras, these small cameras that are excellent. We had my suite fairly well covered with these cams and microphones. We wanted to have the sound as good as possible. Bad video I could deal with, but bad sound is definitely a show-stopper. Other than that, we used a Canon EOS camera, which looks like a still camera, and was perceived as such. I would say that my cinematographer was my press officer, which sounds very official and swanky. They thought that he was taking still pictures. At one point, I was supposed to have a meeting with the president of Morocco, but he showed up too early, and we didn't have time to switch on the concealed cameras in the office, so I had to cancel the meeting, basically.
Can you talk about putting all of this together then? Did you have a place in your suite that you could look at the footage, or was that all done after the fact?
Mads Brügger: The photographer was staying on the floor below me. From time to time, we would go through the footage and the recordings. Also, from time to time, we would copy everything onto another hard disk, which we would then ship out of the country, as a way of being sure. Even if they would find out about us, we would have some of the recordings intact.
It gets fairly intense towards the end here. How long did you stay after everything was in order?
Mads Brügger: At that point, I had the feeling I was pushing the envelope a bit too far. In a place such as the Central African Republic, and Liberia as well, anything can happen at any time. Not because of something you have said or done, but because of something out of your control. When you carry yourself in such a flamboyant manner, as I do in the film, you attract a lot of attention. Some of it is good, but some of it is also bad. I think it would have been a matter of days or weeks before something would have gone bad, as in really bad.
Is there anything you're working on as a follow-up? Are you planning on staying in this kind of genre?
Mads Brügger: The next film I'm doing is with another Danish director, about the suspicious death of a high-ranking European Union official. It's like a murder mystery inside the commission. I'm in the film, but as myself. It's not role-playing, as such. It's very hard-core, investigative journalism, but, at the same time, it does have it's fun moments as well.
Do you find people trying to reach out to you, to try this "performative journalism" style?
Mads Brügger: I do get a lot of requests and comments on Facebook and email and various online things. It's great, because it seems the film really inspires younger filmmakers to work in these conditions.
What would you like to say to anyone who hasn't seen The Ambassador about why they should give it a shot on Blu-ray and DVD?
Mads Brügger: If it's intriguing to people, they should definitely check it out.
Great. Thank you. I really enjoyed it, and I hope it does well on Blu-ray and DVD.
Mads Brügger: Thank you very much. It was nice speaking with you.