A homemade airplane touches down in Sudan. The pilot is Hubert Sauper and ten years after the victory of ’Darwin’s Nightmare’ in DOX:AWARD he presents a powerful documentary about colonialism and the joke as a tool.
INTERVIEW HUBERT SAUPER (FILM: WE COME AS FRIENDS, CPH:DOX 2014)
”This plane is a funny joke”, exclaims a Chinese worker in a Sudanese oilfield. The reason for the comment is the arrival of Hubert Sauber’s homemade airplane. For the experienced documentarian the comment from the Chinese worker nails the point of the alternative means of transportation.
”The plane is a ”funny joke”, that’s why it works! It’s like a Trojan horse. Because, how do you get access to a Chinese oilfield?” asks Hubert Sauper and continues: “If you don’t want to risk your life by breaking in from the land side, nor want to use three years applying for commissions? You fall from the sky! Then you are just there!”
”We are making a new country, everything will be fine and everyone will be happy”
Hubert Sauper has spend six years in his homemade airplane landing in various locations around the politically explosive Northeast Africa, and making the movie ‘We Come As Friends’ about the pathology of colonialism and the separation of Sudan where he spend two out of the six years. The project took him through Libya and Egypt in a chaotic slalom between the fall of dictators and air missiles, before reaching South Sudan, now the world’s youngest nation.
Here he wanted to tell a story different from the main stream media: “The NARRATIVE about the separation of Sudan was strikingly positive: We are creating a new nation, everything will be fine and everyone will be happy. But as soon as the new boarder was drawn the boarder was on fire and thousands of people got killed – which was very predictable” he says.
“When you cut a boarder of 2000 km directly through oilfields then there is no other way than war. You don’t need to be a prophet to predict that” Hubert Sauper concludes.
A joke with a tie
The story, which the news-journalists, according to Hubert Sauper, don’t have time to understand thoroughly, he himself used six years documenting. In order to understand the separation of Sudan, Sauper visited various organisations in South Sudan. In the movie he moves with neutral directness and a wry smile from the oil-workers billiard room to UN-offices and missionary bible schools.
In the movie he lets each party give their version of the realities in Sudan, and the homemade plane proved to be a genius tool in order to grant access – not just to the oilfields – but also to the personal stories.
“As a documentarian it’s not enough you are interested in peoples lives, if they are going to use their time and energy they have to also be interested in you. The plane is a way to create that bond”, Sauper says, and gives an example: “If a guy comes walking in to your garden and says “hey” it is one thing, if he lands with a parachute in you garden it’s a completely different thing. The first question will be: “How did you fall from the sky?” and immediately you have a different relationship”.
The flying joke worked as a tool when granting access to private stories, but did not always fit military protocols. Halfway through the project had to suit up in a pilot uniform.
”I went through Libya and Egypt without the uniform, and it gave me a lot of problems with the military being this nice guy in a t-shirt. They said: “You can’t be a captain, show me your papers”, and I was detained for weeks in Libya and Egypt. Then I got the idea to mutate into what I hate the most: A “military person”. And then my co pilot Barney and myselv were received as captains and taken seriously” Sauper explains.
The sick colonialism
But even with the uniform and a plane looking like a funny joke Sauper met great challenges, especially in Mubarak’s Egyptian airspace: “They would tell us, if you fly there, then there will be automatic missiles shooting at you. I asked them, if they could just tell us where the missiles were so that we would not come close to them, and they would say: “no, no, that’s a secret”. It is a crazy world, a sick world!” Sauper explains and elaborates:
“When we se Africa in the television, we see all these Kalashnikovs and people in uniforms. This is not Africa! This is the colonial Africa, the pathology of hundreds of years of ambition, and the whole film is an analysis of this, the pathology of colonialism. When we tell ourselves that this is the best we can do – it’s a perverse explanation”, Sauper points out.
To make it in a sick world, the joke is the only way forth: “When you decide to take on a strange world, it is best to become part of the strangeness. To fly a winged lawnmower and wear a captain uniform is a clownesque. It really is a joke”.
Somewhere between the joke and official protocols Hubert Sauper has, with the movie ’We Come As Friends’, created an intelligent, charming and sarcastic status report on the pathology of colonialism, through the example of the worlds youngest nation, South Sudan.