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Monday, 5/27/2019

Retrospective Mads Brügger

Pushing Investigative Boundaries

THE AMBASSADOR

FILMFEST MÜNCHEN is dedicating a retrospective to documentary filmmaker, scriptwriter, and journalist Mads Brügger at this summer's festival. This multitalented Danish director, born in 1972, is a virtuoso who explores the boundary between documentary and feature films. With loads of black humor, Brügger gets to the bottom of things, whether it's theater of the absurd in North Korea, raising Saint Bernard dogs in China, or diamond-smuggling and conspiracies in Africa. Provocatively and self-referentially, Brügger himself appears in front of the camera and searches for facts in the most engaging way possible — using a hidden camera and at times putting himself in mortal danger. With THE RED CHAPEL (2009), THE AMBASSADOR (2011), ST. BERNARD SYNDICATE (2018), and COLD CASE HAMMARSKJÖLD, this retrospective will present Brügger's four feature-length films, all of which had their German premiere at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN.

Even if the films could not be about more different subjects, the goal of Brügger's documentaries is always the same: to uncover hidden, criminal patterns using the devices of film and acting. One after another, the boundaries between documentary and journalistic research are blurred — as are those between reality and fiction. In THE RED CHAPEL (2006), Brügger takes a troupe of Danish actors to North Korea on the pretense of wanting to put on a play there. In reality, though, Brügger's motive is to subversively expose the dictatorship. With the help of a hidden camera and a clever performance, he manages in the film to get a look behind the curtain of North Korean state propaganda: a fascinating and unique glimpse somewhere between surveillance, self-censorship, and grotesque theater.

 

ST. BERNARD SYNDICATE and THE RED CHAPEL

 

Brügger's most sensational film to date is probably THE AMBASSADOR (2011). This investigative documentary touches on satire while uncovering an unbelievable degree of corruption. The story behind this film project could itself be made into a movie: Brügger procures a Liberian diplomatic passport on the black market and is dispatched to the Central African Republic. Brügger takes great care to make his alter ego a walking cliché — complete with a cigar and Panama hat — but realizes that he fits in alarmingly well. This is perhaps the film's main insight: that conditions are just as bad as one imagines, if not worse. Brügger unabashedly discloses everything: his real name, documents, background, connections. With a touch of cynicism and ironic undercurrent, he goes in search of blood diamonds — and soon finds some.

Just last year, Mads Brügger was at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN once again to introduce his film ST. BERNARD SYNDICATE (2018). Compared to his previous works as director, the focus here was switched. Instead of a documentary film with elements of performance, Brügger made a feature film with a documentary sheen. Two Danish businesspeople want to make lots of money by selling Saint Bernard dogs in China. Without permission to shoot, but with plenty of manipulation and audacity, Brügger films the odyssey of the two businessmen, but deliberately stays in the background for a change. The occasionally long pauses between Brügger's films can be explained by the fact that he is only a part-time filmmaker. Brügger has kept his bread-and-butter job as a radio journalist as a matter of principle, in order to be less restricted and more independent in his filmmaking.

 

COLD CASE HAMMARSKJÖLD and THE AMBASSADOR

 

COLD CASE HAMMARSKJÖLD (2019) is a taste of things to come. In this spectacular true crime documentary, Brügger reopens the case of the 1961 death of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld. Up to his usual methods, but amid significantly more of a sober atmosphere than in his previous films, Brügger gets to the bottom of this possible assassination. Directed like a crime thriller and presenting an unbelievable wealth of information, COLD CASE HAMMARSKJÖLD is the result of six years of detailed research full of ambiguities and contradictions. This film elicited public discussion and the case was officially reopened. Additionally, Brügger received the World Cinema Directing Award in the documentary category at the Sundance Film Festival. At FILMFEST MÜNCHEN, this highly praised documentary will celebrate its German premiere as part of the retrospective.