I would like to start this review with a disclaimer. I did not go into the Scottish premiere of the documentary feature You've Been Trumped with an open mind. I am fundamentally against the development of the Menie Estate near Balmedie, Aberdeenshire into a so called world class golf resort by tycoon Donald Trump. It's important I say that. I am a a local lass brought up a few miles along the road in the similarly stunning area of Newburgh which is a nature reserve and has what I think is the most beautiful beach in the UK. Newburgh also has a golf course, but it stops short of the amazing dunes. Donald Trump wants to make his golf course ON the dunes of Balmedie Beach. And despite them being a SSI (Site of Scientific Interest) and therefore supposedly protected from developments like this, the Scottish Government have let him go ahead anyway with the development of a golf course, 300 houses and a hotel. So I state my objection straight away. If he'd been building this course on the dunes of Newburgh, I'd probably be chained to one of his diggers right now. Crying.
My goodness, though, I didn't know the half of it. Director Anthony Baxter wanted to make a documentary that got the whole story of what has been going on at the Menie Estate in the past two years. He was concerned that the local press were giving a biased view on the development, an unremittingly pro-Trump stance, demonising those difficult residents who wouldn't give up their homes so that the local economy could prosper. The ,local press has painted them as belligerent troublemakers clearly just holding out til Trump opened the cheque-book still wider. Baxter knew there was more to this story and set off to get to know all of those involved. What he found were ordinary decent and brave folks. All of whom were at the premiere last night.
The film charts a year over which a decision by Aberdeenshire Council to deny planning permission given grave concern over the environmental impacts on the protected eco-system of Menie Sands and the actuality of exaggerated economic claims for the local economy, was overturned by the Scottish Government. It charts a year in which residents on the proposed site lived in fear of having their homes put under a compulsory purchase order, a order usually reserved for houses in the way of civic and infrastructural developments like new motorways or new hospitals, not private developments.
The makers of the documentary got to know those people involved, the residents who had to watch as they landscape they loved and lived in for many years changed day by day as the construction workers moved in and made devastating changes to the landscape that weren't on the plans . These people had their water cut off for over a week with no emergency supplies brought to them and no interest by the local authorities who could have brought the organisation who did the damage to task. these were people who were subjected to routine observation by security patrols and in some cases arrest by the police if their activities were deemed in anyway contrary to Trump's development, even if it was just removing a marker flag from their land to stop their grandkids getting injured on its metal spike. These were people who felt cast adrift by their local authorities and support systems. They had every right to be bitter, instead they are amazing.
Baxter also tried to speak to the other side, the Trump organisation and in a film that largely provokes dismay in its audience it is the moment it is these moments spent trying to engage with trump and his employees that flashes of humour arise. Baxter as one of the few local journalists asking probing questions about the residents' situation is quickly identified by Trump himself as an enemy and his disdain for the filmmaker provides incredulous laughter in the audience. Conversely the Trump organisation's focus on Baxter also provides the film's most shocking moment in a scene where Baxter is roughly arrested with no charge by local police after visiting the site office to calmly find out why local residents have had their water cut off for over a week.
In short I thought I knew a lot of what was going on in the Menie Estate, but until I saw this film I realise that I didn't know the half of it. There is a thoroughness to Baxter's reporting that has been absent in other reports and features I have seen on the development. He gets objective views from experts in the fields of land rights, ecology, economics which open up the development for real scrutiny in a way that the national politicians in charge of the decisions made seem not to have done.
All that missing is a formal interview with the man himself, Donald Trump, which could be the film's only flaw. Where are the interviews with Trump Senior, Trump Junior, George Sorial, or any of his development team? The answer is given in a final scene in a familiar phone box in Pennan at the end of the film.
The film won the Green Award at the Sheffield Documentary Festival. This is a massive achievement. But as yet no distributor has taken the film on, so wide distribution into mainstream cinemas is unlikely until that happens. Similarly the Edinburgh Film festival rejected the film for inclusion in this week's programme. This is a great shame. Someone needs to take the initiative on this as I think we could, if the right distribution goes ahead be looking at a contender for Best Documentary Feature in a number of film awards. If Michael Moore could do it with Roger and Me back in 1990, then Anthony Baxter could do it with, let's face it a subject far better known on the world stage.
See the director and the residents of the Menie Estate (and main players of the film) at the premiere last night here. (Photo courtesy of Richard Pelling) and today's Channel 4 report.
Follow director Anthony Baxter on twitter @antbaxter
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