At the Sheffield Documentary Festival, on 10 June, I watched a 90 minute film called ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ about the so far successful attempts of the American property tycoon Donald Trump to construct two golf courses and associated housing on the wild Scottish coastline near Aberdeen, despite local opposition. The film maker, Anthony Baxter, who lives not far away, took the side of the protestors. It was a classic case of David versus Goliath: of powerless victims against a stonking rich bully with all the symbols of his power - helicopters, a fleet of Range Rovers and a team of sidekicks who looked like the cast of Reservoir Dogs. It was depressing to watch how power was able to buy over forces who should be neutral like the police and private security. At one stage ‘the Film Maker’ was arrested on a ‘trumped’ up charge (very appropriate word in this instance), handcuffed and gaoled for a few hours – only for the court to throw out the charge.
So far, so all too familiar we might say. But the sting in the tail of this story is that Anthony Baxter has made a Green Award-winning film entirely at his own cost and so far without any TV showing. He has mortgaged his house, raised money by crowd-funding to edit his film and spent months hanging around the Trump landgrab without any reward. It’s not that he is an amateur documentary maker. He is a professional and his movie is in the public interest. An indignation-arousing, well-made, documentary is a powerful weapon – expect placard waving and protest when it is shown in Aberdeen soon – but why should Anthony Baxter have to make it as a hobby?
Actually, this happens all too frequently these days in the documentary film world. The influence of social issue docs is increasing, what with theatrical release and the global internet, but the money available is diminishing. It is common, even usual, for a producer/director to spend at least four times as much time raising money as making the film itself. Who would/could do that for a living?