Interview with Andrew Thompson, co-director of award-winning documentary Mugabe and the White African

Andrew Thompson with his partner and co-director Lucy Bailey

Andrew Thompson is co-director alongside partner Lucy Bailey of Mugabe and The White African, the only documentary made inside Zimbabwe since Robert Mugabe passed a total press ban (which is only now starting to be lifted). The documentary, nominated for a BAFTA and winner of the British Independent Film Awards, was filmed covertly on and off for 12 months under dangerous conditions. It tells the story of one white farmer Mike Campbell and his family’s attempts to legally challenge Mugabe’s racist land reforms, which aim to take away land from the white farmers and re-distribute it to poor black people, but which actually give the land to Mugabe’s supporters. Here Andrew Thompson talks about the challenges of filming in Zimbabwe, the absurdity of Mugabe’s land reforms, the importance of the film in raising awareness, the determination of the Campbell family and why he loves documentaries amongst other things.  

What brought you to make a film in Zimbabwe and were the issues there something you were always fully aware of?   

We were aware of the situation in Zimbabwe obviously from press reports and things we’d seen in the news and Lucy Bailey had spent a lot of time filming in Africa. And we were actually filming in Beitbridge in South Africa, which is the main land bridge between Zimbabwe and South Africa, and we saw hundreds and hundreds of Zimbabwean refugees trying to get over the border to South Africa. It was really at that point that we thought there is surely a story to be told somewhere about the catastrophe happening inside Zimbabwe. So we were aware of the story, but as filmmakers you’re looking for a way in, you’re looking for a way of telling that story. And it was in talking to friends in South Africa that we heard about the extraordinary case of one white farmer, Mike Campbell, challenging Robert Mugabe in an international court. So Lucy and I looked at one another and said ‘that’s our story, that’s it, that’s the way we’ll be able to tell the much wider story of what’s going on in Zimbabwe.’ It’s a  very raw, very intimate, very personal story of one man challenging the President in an international court. So ourselves, we’re not South African, we’re not Zimbabwean and we have no connections in those countries. It’s just an interesting story and an important story to tell as well.  

Do you think the story is something that people are generally unaware about or only know small details about ?  

Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean I think, certainly around election time, Zimbabwe gets a lot of press. But I think as a filmmaker who wants to make a theatrical film you need a lot more than just shots of destitute black farm workers or white farmers having their farm disputed. You need a story and what was great about the court case is that it gave us a natural backbone through which to tell the story. Lucy and I very much come from a background of Comic Relief appeal films and in those films you’re often telling quite difficult complex stories. Films about child prostitution  or malaria or infant mortality, you’re telling really quite heavy stories and you’ve only got three minutes to tell them. Our challenge as filmmakers was can we sustain the emotional intensity of a three minute appeal film over a 90 minute feature film. And we do that in Comic Relief by getting an audience to identify with one or two characters and really care about those individuals. That’s the way we like to tell our stories. So in a Comic Relief film through one or two characters they get to learn about the wider issues and that’s the way we approached this film. Through Mike Campbell you get to learn a much wider story, the complexities of the land reform issue and what’s going on inside Zimbabwe.  

I think with news reports it’s also easy to distance yourself from the issues so it’s more interesting to have someone to relate to in your film.  

I think so, I think an audience watches the film an identifies with the film at a  very human level. It’s the emotions which go through an audience with the family. Now if you’re watching  a news report  there’s not enough time to get to know the characters  or to understand what drives those characters. I think what our film does is it engages an audience that perhaps doesn’t even know where Zimbabwe is on a map and doesn’t know anything about the political situation. It’s a film that’s been very successful in bringing a much wider audience to the situation inside Zimbabwe.  

Did it take much negotiation to film the Campbells or were they supportive of you filming them from the beginning?  

They very much were supportive of us making the film. I mean Ben [Mike’s son-in-law] talks about publicity being the soul of justice. They believe that to have their case in the public eye is crucial for their own security and safety.  I know what’s happened to the Campbells has been dreadful but at least it’s happened in the public eye. The world can sit up and is aware of what’s going on. But also they were very concerned that the fledging SADAC court [International court dealing with human rights in the southern countries of Africa]-this was only the second case it had ever heard- was given all the publicity it needs to get established. So they wanted the publicity, they were very happy to have a film made about their case. Because if Mugabe does try and wipe out Mike and Ben it’s gonna happen in the public eye now, people are aware of their story and who they are. But I think as well it’s important for the whole region and for the SADAC tribunal which needs all the publicity it can get. If this film can help fan the flames of publicity and get that international court on the world’s radar than I think it’s worthwhile. So permission wasn’t  a problem.  

How did having a baby half-way through effect things? I think documentary filmmaking is pretty tricky at the best of times, certainly making  a film about Zimbabwe is very tricky. He spent the first 4 months of his life in an edit suite, that’s how we got around that. So it made life definitely more difficult but you can’t put your life on hold because you’re making a documentary film. 

What were the practicalities of filming in such a dangerous place as Zimbabwe? Was there ever a moment where you really felt you were close to being caught or beaten up? 

It was very, very, very dangerous, I mean obviously we knew that when we set out to make the film it was going to involve trips into Zimbabwe. And there’s  a total press ban in 2008 in Zimbabwe. So it’s basically gonna be a case of smuggling ourselves, camera equipment and our sound recordist into the country. We always try to travel separately from our gear so if we were pulled over or caught on the farm we never had any filming equipment on us. And sometimes we had to enter the country legally and have our passports stamped and sometimes we had to enter the country illegally. We relied heavily in both cases on people who were working in South Africa and Southern Africa to help get our gear in. But it was dangerous on the roads there was a lot of CIO [secret police in Zimabawe] and police and military checkpoints, they would stop you every 10 km sometimes. They would strip the car down and search you and ask what you we’re doing. We had false papers that you could buy within the country, we always used different entry and exit points into the country. When we were on the farm itself we never spent too much time on the farm, we’d sleep in safe houses and different places every night. So it’s really just a case of getting one step ahead all the time of the guys that were trying to catch us. 

Filming in Harare in the hospital posed all sorts of problems because it effectively meant that you’re travelling very much in public and getting into the two hospitals where Ben, Mike and Angela [Mike’s daughter] was very, very tricky. And I think you see on the film four minutes screen time and that was 10 days of planning and logistics to get past the Zanu-PF militia who were guarding the doors. We actually hid the camera equipment in bags of sweets. It was pretty hairy and finally we were rumbled and we had to run a few times and so we had to think pretty fast on our feet a lot of the time. 

Seeing the family beaten up was very shocking, how did you deal with that yourself as a director having filmed them for 12 months and having got close to them? 

Yeah obviously you spend that much time with anyone and they’re a great family to spend time with, we were and continue to be very, very close to them. It wasn’t easy you go into filmmakers mode and when you’re making the film you get on with the job to make the film. It’s actually only when you sit back afterwards that you reflect  on the injuries they got and the beatings they got which is very hard to deal with. But actually whilst we’re out there filming we were concentrating on getting what we needed to get done, done. But of course it’s harrowing to see friends beaten up. I’m delighted that Ben has made a quick recovery, Mike is very sadly slow to recover and may never recover from his beatings. So it’s a dreadful thing to have to go through with them,  but we took great strength from their courage really. Their strength and courage kept us going, when we wobbled and we fell on whether we could afford to keep going both emotionally and financially. 

That leads me to my next question, what the film gets across is their sense of determination despite the odds, is there a hope here that more white farmers will follow their example? 

Well, some have on the back of their court case seventy-seven other white commercial farmers have joined them. Initially when we first started filming there was  a lot of reluctance by a lot of the white farming community to challenge Mugabe in the way that Mike and Ben did, I think people actually thought that it was actually going to antagonise the situation and make it worse. But when the SADAC tribunal ruled in favour of Campbell, other white farmers joined the case, they obviously want the same protection for their farms that Mike and Ben have got. Now that’s in the eye of the law and that hasn’t translated into them being any safer, a lot of those other seventy-seven white farmers have lost their farmers and been beaten as well. But certainly in terms of its legal status other white farmers have joined the Campbell case, as very much a precedent has been set. 

There is an element of a surprising humour in the film for example when we hear a minister’s son Tamada arguing with Ben about accepting the Asians but not white people. And I remember  the audience just laughing at the absurdity of some of the things Mugabe’s people were saying. What do you think of this aspect? 

Obviously we could be on the ground all the time inside Zimbabwe so we left a small camera behind with Mike and with Ben. And that argument on the lawn with Tamada is a wonderful example of the sort of thing that we never would’ve been able to record, even if we had been in Zimbabwe with a camera. And I think it’s really telling because in that entire argument between Ben and Tamada on the lawn the whole absurdity of the land reform program is argued about. It goes to show that the Land Reform Program talks about an equal distribution of land, taking land from wealthy white land owners and distributing it equally amongst poor black working families. This is  a program that was designed to strip white farm workers of their land  and is not being distributed to poor black people, it’s being distributed to the cronies of Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF. Zimbabwe is for sell and it seems very much that the Chinese and the Asians are the ones reaping the benefits. Certainly a lot of Zimbabwean industry and mines are being heavily invested in by the Chinese. So it’s not a case of black and white, and the Chinese are happy to do business with Mugabe whereas the West aren’t. 

Religion is a very strong element in their determination have you had any response from religious people or communities about the film? 

I think the faith is a very important part of the film, I think it becomes very clear to the audience that the Campbell’s derive their strength from this extraordinary faith. Faith groups have been very encouraged, there aren’t many film that address faith. And I do think it goes to show the power of faith and the conviction for doing the right thing. We have had people coming up and saying we should have not included faith, but I think that would’ve done  a great disservice not only to the family but also as filmmakers it would be very unrealistic of us to cut faith. I think audiences deserve to be told where they get this drive and extraordinary strength from. So I think it’s a very important part of the film. 

There are people are very keen to show it in their churches and we encourage that when we can.  We’ve had a church meeting in York with the Archbishop of York who famously cut up his dog collar live on television and said he won’t put his dog collar back on till Zimbabwe is free. He’s been very outspoken about the Mugabe regime and he’s very much behind the film and having more church screenings. In July in York there’s a lot of Anglican leaders coming together in one place and there’s idea that the film could be shown there. But it’s very difficult with the church because there’s no one point of contact like with cinema chains. 

There are some extremely poignant moments in the film such as when we see the Campbell’s farmer neighbour Ruth standing sadly in a bare room after everything’s been taken away by Mugabe supporters,  how do you go about capturing intimate  moments like this?  

I think it’s all down to trust and a good relationship with the people that we’re filming. We spent a lot of time in the ground in Zimbabwe and we got to know a whole community of people, and they haven’t got anything to hide  with their stories. It happened to coincide that when we were out there in Zimbabwe Ruth and Billy’s [Ruth’s husband] farm was invaded and they invited us to come along. And Ben suggested we go along to film an invasion in process. You’ve could’ve seen Billy and Ruth’s farm invaded as a news report, but I think the strength of in our film is that you actually get to know these people as characters and I think that is why it stays with you and that is why it’s more poignant. 

The use of music is very moving how did you find the composer Jonny Pilcher? 

Jonny’s great, he’s actually the keyboard player in Athlete, and I think music can make or break a film really and we were very lucky to find Jonny.  We actually came across him through a friend of a friend of a friend of our editor. We did speak to quite a few musicians at quite an early stage because music’s always going to be a very important to the film and he was just the man that best fit the bill. He wrote  a lot of it blind, we gave him three, four minute teaser cuts at the beginning of the edit , just to give him a sense of the style and pacing, and he went away and wrote  a lot of it blind and sent us the music which we then fit in the film. When we got tighter in the cut we were then sent in the fine cut versions that he would score music for in specific parts of the film. So a lot of he wrote blind which I think was tremendous. 

Has the film been shown in Southern Africa, if so what has the response been? Do you hope it will make a difference in getting neighbouring African countries to help? 

Yes we have, we haven’t had an official premiere there yet but we’re going to the Durban International Film Festival this year. So that will be our official launch in South Africa and there’s a currently a deal being made with both international channels out there, it will be available on DVD, on TV and at cinemas. As part of our outreach campaigning- as well as it was part of our promise to Mike and Ben that we would get the film shown as widely as we can-  Southern African, South Africa, the SADAC nations are absolutely crucial in terms of awareness and outreach. So we have had probably about six private screenings for selected individuals and some individuals have been members of the ANC [African National Congress, South Africa’s governing party], we’ve screened in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. So we have had some targeted screenings to key individuals in government and the SADAC secretariat for instance in Namibia. But we haven’t had a full scale public release, the reactions to the screenings we have had have all been incredibly positive I think there’s a huge awareness in African countries that the Mugabe issue is a real issue. It drags the whole region down and there is a political will to do something about Mugabe but it’s difficult to translate that into action. So it’s a very important film for Southern Africa and yes we do want it distributed to a general public audience and in the meantime we will continue to have these private screenings to key individuals. And from the feedback we’ve got it has had a genuine impact on getting things done. 

Do you think that the SADAC court will be able to eventually make a difference for Zimbabwe what with Mugabe so far not recognising it’s rulings

I think it will, I think it’s time is yet to come, any international organisation… it’s like the European Union  20 years ago it needs time to establish itself. And I think that the SADAC community is in its infancy, it’s  a new binding of nations together and I think it will have a huge importance in the region in years to come. This [the Campbell case] is only the second case and it’s a major case, and it’s about getting it’s voice heard. I hope that this film can be a messenger that can give publicity that this SADAC court does exist and it ought to be recognised. 

What is the situation of the family now and do you hope to return to Zimbabwe to continue the story? 

The family have lost everything Mike is very very poorly and is living in friend’s accommodation in Harare. Ben managed to hold on and briefly moved to a neighbour’s cottage in Chegutu a local town, and they managed to keep their factory going for a little bit. But the farm invaders subsequently have burnt that down as well, but there is nothing left now of Mount Carmel Farm. And the house that Ben was living in, the farmer who owns that house has also been thrown off his farm, so Ben is also in accommodation in Harare. They’re living off hand-outs so it’s a terribly sad story, they’re in desperate need of help. So personally for them this battle has cost them everything. But I think that they feel even if they hadn’t taken this battle on in the courts, that perhaps they would’ve lost everything anyhow.  But very much the fight goes on, Ben’s going back to Namibia to the SADAC courts to try and file an urgent application to try and get Zimbabwe to recognise the ruling of the SADAC court. So it’s very much a work in progress. In regards to returning to Zimbabwe, I’d love to return to Zimbabwe… I think for us we’ve told the story we wanted to tell and I think if other filmmakers want to pick up the mantle and run with the story about white farmers that’s their story to tell. We are very interested in African stories and Zimbabwean stories but I think we would struggle to tell such a good story again, the court case was crucial. But we keep very close to the family we’re always in contact them and I’m going out to see in a few months them on a purely social basis. 

Do you want to continue making documentaries or would you also like to branch out and make feature films? 

No, I’ve always been interested in making documentary films, I love making them, I think that often fact is stronger than fiction. And I’ve never had any interest in going into feature films, I think ordinary people often have more interesting stories to tell than can be made up by a fiction writer or a screenwriter. I like the intimacy of making documentaries, I like working in a small team, I like real people and telling real stories and I think I get real strength from that. So I’m very much interested in continuing to make theatrical documentary films. And I do hope that when you’re watching Mugabe and the White African you forget very quickly that you’re watching a documentary film. I think  you can mention a documentary film to people and they won’t go and watch it they think it’ll be rather ploddy and boring and preachy, but I challenge anyone to watch Mugabe and the White African and not be moved by it and pinch themselves at the end of the movie in what they’ve seen is actually fact and not fiction.  

What were the practicalities of filming in such a dangerous place as Zimbabwe? Was there ever a moment where you really felt you were close to being caught or beaten up? 

It was very, very, very dangerous, I mean obviously we knew that when we set out to make the film it was going to involve trips into Zimbabwe. And there’s  a total press ban in 2008 in Zimbabwe. So it’s basically gonna be a case of smuggling ourselves, camera equipment and our sound recordist into the country. We always try to travel separately from our gear so if we were pulled over or caught on the farm we never had any filming equipment on us. And sometimes we had to enter the country legally and have our passports stamped and sometimes we had to enter the country illegally. We relied heavily in both cases on people who were working in South Africa and Southern Africa to help get our gear in. But it was dangerous on the roads there was a lot of CIO [secret police in Zimabawe] and police and military checkpoints, they would stop you every 10 km sometimes. They would strip the car down and search you and ask what you we’re doing. We had false papers that you could buy within the country, we always used different entry and exit points into the country. When we were on the farm itself we never spent too much time on the farm, we’d sleep in safe houses and different places every night. So it’s really just a case of getting one step ahead all the time of the guys that were trying to catch us.  

Filming in Harare in the hospital posed all sorts of problems because it effectively meant that you’re travelling very much in public and getting into the two hospitals where Ben, Mike and Angela [Mike’s daughter] was very, very tricky. And I think you see on the film four minutes screen time and that was 10 days of planning and logistics to get past the Zanu-PF militia who were guarding the doors. We actually hid the camera equipment in bags of sweets. It was pretty hairy and finally we were rumbled and we had to run a few times and so we had to think pretty fast on our feet a lot of the time.  

Seeing the family beaten up was very shocking, how did you deal with that yourself as a director having filmed them for 12 months and having got close to them? 

Yeah obviously you spend that much time with anyone and they’re a great family to spend time with, we were and continue to be very, very close to them. It wasn’t easy you go into filmmakers mode and when you’re making the film you get on with the job to make the film. It’s actually only when you sit back afterwards that you reflect  on the injuries they got and the beatings they got which is very hard to deal with. But actually whilst we’re out there filming we were concentrating on getting what we needed to get done, done. But of course it’s harrowing to see friends beaten up. I’m delighted that Ben has made a quick recovery, Mike is very sadly slow to recover and may never recover from his beatings. So it’s a dreadful thing to have to go through with them,  but we took great strength from their courage really. Their strength and courage kept us going, when we wobbled and we fell on whether we could afford to keep going both emotionally and financially. 

That leads me to my next question, what the film gets across is their sense of determination despite the odds, is there a hope here that more white farmers will follow their example? 

Well, some have on the back of their court case seventy-seven other white commercial farmers have joined them. Initially when we first started filming there was  a lot of reluctance by a lot of the white farming community to challenge Mugabe in the way that Mike and Ben did, I think people actually thought that it was actually going to antagonise the situation and make it worse. But when the SADAC tribunal ruled in favour of Campbell, other white farmers joined the case, they obviously want the same protection for their farms that Mike and Ben have got. Now that’s in the eye of the law and that hasn’t translated into them being any safer, a lot of those other seventy-seven white farmers have lost their farmers and been beaten as well. But certainly in terms of its legal status other white farmers have joined the Campbell case, as very much a precedent has been set.  

There is an element of a surprising humour in the film for example when we hear a minister’s son Tamada arguing with Ben about accepting the Asians but not white people. And I remember  the audience just laughing at the absurdity of some of the things Mugabe’s people were saying. What do you think of this aspect? 

Obviously we could be on the ground all the time inside Zimbabwe so we left a small camera behind with Mike and with Ben. And that argument on the lawn with Tamada is a wonderful example of the sort of thing that we never would’ve been able to record, even if we had been in Zimbabwe with a camera. And I think it’s really telling because in that entire argument between Ben and Tamada on the lawn the whole absurdity of the land reform program is argued about. It goes to show that the Land Reform Program talks about an equal distribution of land, taking land from wealthy white land owners and distributing it equally amongst poor black working families. This is  a program that was designed to strip white farm workers of their land  and is not being distributed to poor black people, it’s being distributed to the cronies of Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF. Zimbabwe is for sell and it seems very much that the Chinese and the Asians are the ones reaping the benefits. Certainly a lot of Zimbabwean industry and mines are being heavily invested in by the Chinese. So it’s not a case of black and white, and the Chinese are happy to do business with Mugabe whereas the West aren’t.  

Religion is a very strong element in their determination have you had any response from religious people or communities about the film? 

I think the faith is a very important part of the film, I think it becomes very clear to the audience that the Campbell’s derive their strength from this extraordinary faith. Faith groups have been very encouraged, there aren’t many film that address faith. And I do think it goes to show the power of faith and the conviction for doing the right thing. We have had people coming up and saying we should have not included faith, but I think that would’ve done  a great disservice not only to the family but also as filmmakers it would be very unrealistic of us to cut faith. I think audiences deserve to be told where they get this drive and extraordinary strength from. So I think it’s a very important part of the film.  

There are people are very keen to show it in their churches and we encourage that when we can.  We’ve had a church meeting in York with the Archbishop of York who famously cut up his dog collar live on television and said he won’t put his dog collar back on till Zimbabwe is free. He’s been very outspoken about the Mugabe regime and he’s very much behind the film and having more church screenings. In July in York there’s a lot of Anglican leaders coming together in one place and there’s idea that the film could be shown there. But it’s very difficult with the church because there’s no one point of contact like with cinema chains.  

There are some extremely poignant moments in the film such as when we see the Campbell’s farmer neighbour Ruth standing sadly in a bare room after everything’s been taken away by Mugabe supporters,  how do you go about capturing intimate  moments like this?  

I think it’s all down to trust and a good relationship with the people that we’re filming. We spent a lot of time in the ground in Zimbabwe and we got to know a whole community of people, and they haven’t got anything to hide  with their stories. It happened to coincide that when we were out there in Zimbabwe Ruth and Billy’s [Ruth’s husband] farm was invaded and they invited us to come along. And Ben suggested we go along to film an invasion in process. You’ve could’ve seen Billy and Ruth’s farm invaded as a news report, but I think the strength of in our film is that you actually get to know these people as characters and I think that is why it stays with you and that is why it’s more poignant.  

The use of music is very moving how did you find the composer Jonny Pilcher? 

Jonny’s great, he’s actually the keyboard player in Athlete, and I think music can make or break a film really and we were very lucky to find Jonny.  We actually came across him through a friend of a friend of a friend of our editor. We did speak to quite a few musicians at quite an early stage because music’s always going to be a very important to the film and he was just the man that best fit the bill. He wrote  a lot of it blind, we gave him three, four minute teaser cuts at the beginning of the edit , just to give him a sense of the style and pacing, and he went away and wrote  a lot of it blind and sent us the music which we then fit in the film. When we got tighter in the cut we were then sent in the fine cut versions that he would score music for in specific parts of the film. So a lot of he wrote blind which I think was tremendous.  

Has the film been shown in Southern Africa, if so what has the response been? Do you hope it will make a difference in getting neighbouring African countries to help? 

Yes we have, we haven’t had an official premiere there yet but we’re going to the Durban International Film Festival this year. So that will be our official launch in South Africa and there’s a currently a deal being made with both international channels out there, it will be available on DVD, on TV and at cinemas. As part of our outreach campaigning- as well as it was part of our promise to Mike and Ben that we would get the film shown as widely as we can-  Southern African, South Africa, the SADAC nations are absolutely crucial in terms of awareness and outreach. So we have had probably about six private screenings for selected individuals and some individuals have been members of the ANC [African National Congress, South Africa’s governing party], we’ve screened in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. So we have had some targeted screenings to key individuals in government and the SADAC secretariat for instance in Namibia. But we haven’t had a full scale public release, the reactions to the screenings we have had have all been incredibly positive I think there’s a huge awareness in African countries that the Mugabe issue is a real issue. It drags the whole region down and there is a political will to do something about Mugabe but it’s difficult to translate that into action. So it’s a very important film for Southern Africa and yes we do want it distributed to a general public audience and in the meantime we will continue to have these private screenings to key individuals. And from the feedback we’ve got it has had a genuine impact on getting things done. 

Do you think that the SADAC court will be able to eventually make a difference for Zimbabwe what with Mugabe so far not recognising it’s rulings? 

I think it will, I think it’s time is yet to come, any international organisation… it’s like the European Union  20 years ago it needs time to establish itself. And I think that the SADAC community is in its infancy, it’s  a new binding of nations together and I think it will have a huge importance in the region in years to come. This [the Campbell case] is only the second case and it’s a major case, and it’s about getting it’s voice heard. I hope that this film can be a messenger that can give publicity that this SADAC court does exist and it ought to be recognised. 

What is the situation of the family now and do you hope to return to Zimbabwe to continue the story? 

The family have lost everything Mike is very very poorly and is living in friend’s accommodation in Harare. Ben managed to hold on and briefly moved to a neighbour’s cottage in Chegutu a local town, and they managed to keep their factory going for a little bit. But the farm invaders subsequently have burnt that down as well, but there is nothing left now of Mount Carmel Farm. And the house that Ben was living in, the farmer who owns that house has also been thrown off his farm, so Ben is also in accommodation in Harare. They’re living off hand-outs so it’s a terribly sad story, they’re in desperate need of help. So personally for them this battle has cost them everything. But I think that they feel even if they hadn’t taken this battle on in the courts, that perhaps they would’ve lost everything anyhow.  But very much the fight goes on, Ben’s going back to Namibia to the SADAC courts to try and file an urgent application to try and get Zimbabwe to recognise the ruling of the SADAC court. So it’s very much a work in progress. In regards to returning to Zimbabwe, I’d love to return to Zimbabwe… I think for us we’ve told the story we wanted to tell and I think if other filmmakers want to pick up the mantle and run with the story about white farmers that’s their story to tell. We are very interested in African stories and Zimbabwean stories but I think we would struggle to tell such a good story again, the court case was crucial. But we keep very close to the family we’re always in contact them and I’m going out to see in a few months them on a purely social basis. 

Do you want to continue making documentaries or would you also like to branch out and make feature films? No, I’ve always been interested in making documentary films, I love making them, I think that often fact is stronger than fiction. And I’ve never had any interest in going into feature films, I think ordinary people often have more interesting stories to tell than can be made up by a fiction writer or a screenwriter. I like the intimacy of making documentaries, I like working in a small team, I like real people and telling real stories and I think I get real strength from that. So I’m very much interested in continuing to make theatrical documentary films. And I do hope that when you’re watching Mugabe and the White African you forget very quickly that you’re watching a documentary film. I think  you can mention a documentary film to people and they won’t go and watch it they think it’ll be rather ploddy and boring and preachy, but I challenge anyone to watch Mugabe and the White African and not be moved by it and pinch themselves at the end of the movie in what they’ve seen is actually fact and not fiction.

Mugabe and the White African is available on DVD now, go to http://www.mugabeandthewhiteafrican.com/ for more details about the film.

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2 Comments

  1. “Mugabe and the White African” is more than just about a “farming” family in Zimbabwe.
    I doubt very much if viewers would still sympathise with this family, Mike Campbell and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth after watching them online.
    Mike Campbell and Ben Freeth show their real colours in their own series on youtube particularly the “interview” of Mike Campbell where he tells it like he sees it “if they want to eat they need to have white farmers”:
    Zimbabwe White farmers (Pt 4&5)

    The land was grabbed by Mike Campbell, a South African army captain, who came to Zimbabwe from South Africa in 1974, in the middle of the guerrilla war against the black majority, just four years before the infamous white supremacist Ian Smith unilaterally yielded to international pressure to end white minority rule. Original Rhodesian white farmers have now all left or have complied with the land reform, Mike Campbell won’t.
    Ben Freeth portrays himself as a victim of racial attacks but do not say where he and his family really comes from. Ben Freeth is the son of a British Empire military officer, both are men from the past, from another century, when people like Ben and his father came straight from the British establishment to rule the world.
    Did the two directors Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey knew they were being directed by Ben Freeth and Mike Campbell, I can’t believe they are that naive.

  2. Jonny Pilcher actually plays second guitar with Athlete – not Keyboard as indicated here


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