Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson: Interview
Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson’s documentary ‘Mugabe and the White African’ explores notions of colonialism and racism to gripping effect by focusing on the legal plight of a white Zimbabwean farming family who find themselves on the wrong side of Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme.
What inspired you to make this film and how did you settle on the Campbells as your main subjects?
Lucy Bailey ‘Andrew and I spent lots of time filming in Africa over the past three years with Comic Relief. While we were in South Africa, we heard about this man who was going to take Robert Mugabe to court, so we met Mike Campbell and his son-in-law Ben and we knew they were right to tell the story. It was through the backbone of the court case that we had this very intimate, human story of one family’s battle against Mugabe’s land reforms. Alongside that, we could hopefully highlight the bigger picture of what was happening in Zimbabwe.’
How were you able to film in Zimbabwe?
Andrew Thompson ‘We’ve both filmed a lot in hostile environments so we knew people in neighbouring countries without whose help we’d never have been able to get in and out of the country safely. It was always part of our ambition to make a cinema film, so it was always going to be a case of smuggling a larger format camera and proper sound recording equipment into the country rather than just taking in small consumer cameras. We did also leave a smaller camera out there and some scenes were shot using it.’
Did you worry about being seen to support a white cause or at least the cause of a relatively rich farming family over the poorer blacks?
AT ‘No, filmmakers are always trying to find a way of telling the wider story and you tell it through one very intimate story that engages the audience. It just happened to be a white farmer. His tale is remarkable in that it serves as a microcosm of what is happening in the wider picture. If you look at the facts and figures, one million black farm workers have been made unemployed since the invasion of the white farms, and there are three million Zimbabwean exiles living in South Africa. What was once the bread basket of Africa is now entirely dependent on food aid. The majority of white landowners don’t oppose reform, but there’s a huge difference between genuine land reform and land grab.’
Did the Campbells see you as witnesses? A barrier against violence even?
AT ‘Yes, when we first met Ben he talked about the cloud of fear that hangs over Zimbabwe and the importance of the international media. I think the family felt that having a film made about the case would offer them some degree of protection.’
LB ‘Ben thought that if something happened to them it would then be in the public eye. He said very early on to us that “publicity is the soul of justice”.’
How and where are the Campbells now?
LB ‘Mike and Angela [his wife] are in a safe house in Harare. Their daughter and son-in-law Ben have been put up in a house near the farm and they’re trying to start the linen factory up again. The film is very much their record of the past and also their hope for the future.’
AT ‘Everything has been torn away from them. This is a family that stuck their head above the parapet and risked everything – and they lost.’
Read our review of ‘Mugabe and the White African’
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