Dutch businessman tries to stop screening of festival film

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Mads Brügger, the maker and writer of the controversial documentary, The Ambassador, which opened this year’s International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam, came face to face with a Dutch businessman – depicted as a shady figure selling dubious diplomatic passports in the film - during the premiere screening.

The businessman, Willem Tijssen, flew specially from Africa to the Netherlands to try to prevent the  documentary being shown. He has put an army of lawyers on IDFA’s back, but all his attempts to stop the screening failed, says the IDFA's director in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, “because we have a really powerful lawyer”.

The Danish director used hidden cameras almost exclusively as he posed as a Liberian consul in the Central African Republic eager to get involved in the lucrative blood diamond trade. He used a cover story of opening a new matchstick factory and signed all kinds of shifty contracts with various local politicians.

It was a risky set-up, but Brügger – an investigative journalist by profession – pulled it off and managed to enter the underworld of African shady business practices.

Dutchman beguiled
The Ambassador reveals how easy it is for wealthy Western businessmen to obtain diplomatic credentials from poor African countries. In one scene, Brügger is shown handing over 50,000 dollars to Tijssen for his diplomatic passport. Once back in the Netherlands, the Dutchman claimed that the conversations and scenes featuring him had been taken out of context and that the money he was given was to cover costs.

At the screening in Amsterdam’s Tuschinski cinema, Tijssen confronted Brügger. “It was a bizarre situation,” said Brügger in de Volkskrant. The documentary maker understands the businessman’s rage, but thinks it has worked to his advantage: “If Tijssen were my PR agent, then I’d say ‘Good work!’”

1,000-euro boots
To pull off the role, Brügger attended various receptions at embassies to see how diplomats behaved and what they drank. He dressed himself as a kind of neo-colonialist, spending 1,000 euros on a pair of leather Ann Demeulemeester boots which he wore over his trousers. “Two ministers asked me to bring them back a pair each on my next visit,” says the film-maker.

Brügger said he used the role of diplomat because he sees them as a sort of super-journalist with access to state secrets and powerful circles. "Most of my life I have been working as a journalist," he said. "Journalism is really the foundation of my work as a filmmaker... And I think of this film as journalism at its best, and also documentary-making as it is meant to be,” says Brügger on website Indiewire.

The Ambassador is a follow-up to the Sundance Film Festival award-winning The Red Chapel, where Brügger headed to North Korea with two Danish-Korean comedians under the guise of a cultural exchange.


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More: video interview with filmmaker and writer Mads Brügger