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EDN Member of the Month: ANTHONY BAXTER

11.08.2011

We are happy to introduce a new format to you here at our EDN web site. We call it EDN Member of the Month. In this new monthly interview series we will focus on one of the many EDN members to show members currently in the spotlight and to display the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our first member of the month is Anthony Baxter - producer / director from Montrose Pictures in the UK. Baxter’s latest documentary You’ve been Trumped premiered this year at HotDocs and is now on a successful festival tour.

Anthony Baxter

You’ve been Trumped tells the story of how American billionaire Donald Trump has bought up hundreds of acres on the northeast coast of Scotland to build two golf courses, a hotel and luxury homes. He needs to buy out a few more locals to make the deal come true, but the land he has purchased occupies one of Europe’s most environmentally sensitive stretches of coast, and the handful of local residents don't want it destroyed. 

EDN has talked to Baxter about the journey from idea to finished film and the bumps along the way.

EDN: Could you start by telling us a bit about the process before completing the film? How did you come across the story and when did you decide to make a documentary about it?

AB: I live about 40 miles south of where Donald Trump is building what he claims will be ‘the greatest Golf Course in the world’ on one of Scotland’s last remaining wilderness areas – a unique stretch of coastline north of Aberdeen described by scientists as ‘Scotland’s Amazon’.  The local newspapers, (the Press & Journal and Evening Express) were full of stories about how the Trump resort would mean a jobs bonanza for an area (which incidentally has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe) and never seemed to question the potential environmental impact of the plans.  I felt the media enjoyed the spat between Donald Trump and Michael Forbes (one of the local residents refusing to sell Trump his property) but failed to get deeper into the lives of the local residents.  In many ways these people are unlikely environmentalists – they feel deeply rooted to the land and very protective of the wildlife and rich diversity of flora and fauna surrounding their homes and have witnessed the unique sand dunes move and shift over a considerable period of time.  I actually felt quite angry by the one-sided nature of the media coverage and so I decided I wanted to make a documentary that investigated the environmental impact, gave the local residents a voice.  The local people we follow in the film feel let down by Scotland’s Government.  They also feel the police have ‘taken the side of Donald Trump’.  With one or two exceptions, the media has failed to ask Mr Trump, the police and the Scottish Government the important questions on this development – and our film is an attempt to get to the truth.  I hope it allows people to make up their own minds - having been armed with the facts for the first time.  As I continued filming I realised this very local story could well have a larger worldwide resonance, just as the Scottish film Local Hero – filmed just up the coast - did back in 1983.   People all over the world are trying to balance environmental conservation with the relentless pressures for more economic development.  You've Been Trumped is a cautionary tale in this regard, and also shows how our fascination with celebrity can make things worse.

EDN: It has been quite a hectic journey making this film, and you were also arrested along the way. Could you tell us what happened –why were you arrested, what were the charges and how did this affect the filmmaking process?

AB: The arrest happened in July 2010.  My colleague Richard Phinney and I had been out filming with local resident Michael Forbes on a salmon fishing boat.  We’d returned to Michael’s farm, and whilst there discovered that the water supply to his home (and the home of his 86 year old mother Molly) had been cut off by Mr Trump’s workers.  The family had been without water for a week.  We felt this was a very important public interest story: an 86 year old woman forced to get water from a nearby stream and no emergency supplies had been provided.  We needed to know what the circumstances were – was it an accident?  And if so, when would the water be restored?   So Richard and I went to the site office of the development where we interviewed the man in charge of the building work at the time.   After that, we went to interview another resident – Susan Munro – who was deeply concerned about the environmental health implications of the water supply being cut off to her neighbours.   We were filming with Susan, when the police arrived and told me to switch the camera off.  As I was in the middle of following a very important part of the story I decided to keep it running. I was handcuffed and forced into the police car.  We were then taken to Aberdeen Police headquarters where we had our DNA and photos taken and our camera equipment and footage impounded.  Richard and I were thrown into separate prison cells and left there for several hours.  Eventually, we were both taken out and interviewed by the police, who subsequently charged us both with ‘a breach of the peace’, which is a criminal offence in Scotland.  The Crown Office eventually threw out the charge. The police held the camera and footage for nearly a week before being returned.

EDN: How did you find financing for this film and was it hard?

AB: The short answer is – we had no finance for the film, and yes it has been extremely hard.  The only financial assistance has come from the crowd funding we did for the final postproduction.   Creative Scotland is the agency supposed to be allocating lottery funds to support filmmakers in Scotland.  When it refused us production funding, we were then encouraged to apply for development money, which we did. But at the very last minute, an email came through saying the application had been refused due to ‘lack of audience interest’.  I found this decision extraordinary and bitterly disappointing at the time. If Creative Scotland is not willing to back filmmakers based in Scotland making films about hugely important Scottish stories, then what exactly is its purpose?  When we heard we had been selected to host the World Premiere of You’ve Been Trumped at HotDocs, we again approached Creative Scotland for some support to get to Toronto – and again we were refused. In the end, I had to re-mortgage my house and rack up credit card borrowing, as there was simply no other option if the film was to get made.

EDN: Did you find it made it easier or harder to find financing having a celebrity billionaire as the film’s “bad guy”?

AB: As well as branding the film ‘a failure’ and me personally ‘a fraud’, the Trump Organisation has accused objectors to his plans of being ‘parasites’.   The Organisation has also alleged that I am ‘trying to make money out of the Trump brand’.  Well the Trump brand hasn’t led to any income for the film’s production – in fact the opposite is true.  Obviously Donald Trump is a world famous celebrity.  And with over 450 people crowd funding our film, and over 75,000 watching our trailer on YouTube, a lot of people clearly feel as I that celebrities who manage to upturn strict environmental laws should be held to account for their actions.

One commissioning editor said to me when I first pitched the film ‘I hope you’ve got a good lawyer’.  This felt to me as if there was a fear in television of taking on rich powerful people like Donald Trump: ‘Here’s a man with a track record of suing people – that should be enough to put you off.’   Well I disagree with that completely.  The moment we decide not to ask tough questions of people in power is the day we have failed in our duty as filmmakers.

EDN: As an EDN member you participated last year in an EDN On-line Pitching Session for cross platform projects. How was the experience of pitching on-line?

AB: The idea of pitching on line is a good one in that it means we don’t have to find the money for hotels and transport to travel to a pitch.  I also felt that Ove Rishøj Jensen who set up the pitch did a good job of getting everyone comfortable with the technical side of it prior to the session.  But I’m afraid I’m currently feeling a bit cynical about the whole pitching process.  I would like to know whether any commissioner invested in a project following the online pitch.   It’s my guess at a lot of the pitching events that the money is drying up.  Certainly after I pitched Afghan ER at the Doc/Fest MeetMarket there was no money forthcoming.  That said, I did make some good contacts there and in a way – for me it’s as much about talking with other filmmakers as it is chatting with commissioners.  That’s one of the disadvantages I suppose about pitching online.  There isn’t the human interaction between the filmmakers.

EDN: You’ve been Trumped also uses Crowd Funding. Which crowd funding tool do you use? At what stage in the film process did you launch the crowd funding campaign and what are your goals and aims for this campaign?

AB: We used IndieGoGo for our crowdfunding.  I’d met Slava Rubin – one of the co-founders of IndieGoGo at a Sheffield Doc/Fest crowdfunding session and I found what Slava said very inspiring.  We raised over $20,000 – well over the target we had set ourselves.   We’ve used crowd funding again to ‘take the film to Donald Trump’s backyard’ with a special screening at the IFC Center in Manhattan where we almost doubled our intended target. We were very clear about our goals for the crowd funding – we had to get the film finished in time for HotDocs for the first campaign and bring it to New York for the second.  It possibly also helped that we were able to hook in with jonsi’s website.  jonsi and his management have been so generous in allowing us to use his moving music in the score for the film.

EDN: How has You’ve been Trumped been received by the audience?

AB: We’ve had an extraordinary audience response to You’ve Been Trumped. What I’ve found is that no matter where we show the film in the world, the overpowering emotion from the audience is anger.  The Q&As we’ve just done in Glasgow and Edinburgh couldn’t have gone better.   We had a panel discussion organised by a group called Take One Action, which was great because we were able to move the story on. 

EDN: Have there been any reactions from Mr. Trump and the Trump Corporation?

AB: Donald Trump came in to Aberdeen just before our Aberdeen premiere and said he’d heard the film was ‘boring’.  He admitted he hadn’t seen it, and said if we got him a DVD he might watch it on his new 757 going back to New York.  Our response to that was, why should he get special treatment?  We invited Mr Trump to the screening at the IFC Center so he could see his big screen debut – on the big screen.   But he didn’t come.  The Trump Organisation also put out a statement branding those people who have objected to the destruction of the dunes in Aberdeenshire ‘parasites’.  I felt this was a very cruel way to describe people who feel passionately that these ancient dunes should not be bulldozed.

EDN: What is on the schedule for You’ve been Trumped?

AB: After the US premiere at Michael Moore’s Traverse City film festival, the film will begin a festival run in Europe and continue playing in some select US festivals too as we look to secure a theatrical release.

EDN: And last but not least what are your future plans? Do you already have a new film in the pipeline?

AB: The film I’m hoping to make early next year is called Afghan ER and is set around an extraordinary children’s hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan.  It’s the hospital where western medicine meets ancient traditions head on and I’ve filmed there previously on trips to Afghanistan with my colleague Richard.  I feel very strongly, that the story of ordinary Afghans just doesn’t really get out – there are some superb documentaries that have been made in Afghanistan, but I’m hoping this film will be different to all of them.  And unlike with You’ve Been Trumped, I’m hoping to get the funding in place first!

Here you can see Anthony Baxter's EDN Member profile (only for EDN members).

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