In 2011, journalist-filmmaker Anthony Baxter directed You’ve Been Trumped, the award-winning documentary about a group of Scottish homeowners who face off with Donald Trump after he buys up a stretch of previously protected wilderness to build a luxury golf resort. Now, Baxter has made the follow-up, A Dangerous Game, in which he again follows Trump and other developers as they attempt to build luxury golf courses from Croatia to Scotland.
A Dangerous Game screens at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto today and Sunday. Check out the trailer for You’ve Been Trumped here, followed by a Q&A with Baxter below:
For many people, golf is just a harmless game, not — as your title suggests — a dangerous one. What makes it "dangerous"?
The film begins in Montrose [Scotland], where I'm based — home to arguably the second-oldest golf course in the world. The course is part of the community — on links land [seaside terrain often with rolling sand dunes] — and open to all. This isn't a gated community for the super-rich. I think the danger comes when golf is used as a smokescreen to build huge, sprawling luxury resorts for the world's wealthiest people at the expense of the majority of local people and our planet. In the case of the Trump development in Aberdeenshire, the golf course was built on a scientifically sensitive and supposedly protected site. In another story followed by the film in Dubrovnik, Croatia, a golf course for millionaires is planned for the last part of the city that can be developed — in a country where under one per cent of the country's population play golf. And there are very real concerns about the knock-on effect these Greg Norman-designed golf courses will have on the city's water supplies. Not to mention the chemicals used to keep the greens lush.
A Dangerous Game is the second documentary you've made about golf and the rich. There are so many other issues and struggles in the world today. Why is this one important?
While screening You've Been Trumped to communities around the world, people would approach us and say the same thing's happening to us. There's a sense of powerlessness felt by communities when big money comes marching in and politicians seemingly cave to promises of thousands of jobs, without properly scrutinizing those claims. Though golf resorts are the theme of A Dangerous Game, the same concerns are evident in countless other developments where the views of local people are mostly ignored. There's an important job for journalism here — and these are stories that deserve to be covered.
What is your guiding principle or philosophy for the films you make?
To get to the truth and to let voices be heard that wouldn't otherwise be given a platform. To me that's the whole point of journalism.
Your first film was set in Scotland, and this one broadens the focus to look at sites around the world. How have these protests gone global?
Resistance to these kinds of developments has been happening all over the world for some time — but we just don't hear about them. In Dubrovnik, the local residents have constantly complained about not getting a fair voice in the media, which willingly runs stories promoting the proposed development overlooking the UNESCO-protected city.
Do you see your film as part of a larger movement or social consciousness, and the conversation about wealth and income inequality?
Of course, it’s up to the moviegoers to decide what they think of the film and from their response we'll see how it fits in the wider debate. But there's no doubt that it touches on some very important issues that tap into the concerns of communities around the world — that money and power shouldn't cost the earth.
Donald Trump is a lightning rod, and draws attention to whatever issue he's involved with. How did that help you tell your story?
I'm not sure that it's helped my story — you could argue in some ways it's made it harder. Would we have been arrested and put in jail cells while filming on a local resident's property for the first film, if the developer hadn't been Donald Trump for example? And in Dubrovnik, the developer has nothing to do with the Trump Organization. But there's a strong parallel between the two stories — and in the Croatian example, the community rises up against the powerful.
Is there a tension between being an activist and a documentary filmmaker in a project like this?
I don't see myself as an activist at all. The fact that I've chosen to follow a story that represents people whose voices aren't being heard is what I set out to do.
What are some of your favourite documentary films?
I've been really inspired by some of the superb films I've seen here at Hot Docs; from the Overnighters to The Condemned; from An Honest Liar to The Agreement. It's such a privilege to be here in Toronto to see the work of filmmakers who often battle against the odds to craft their stories to reach an audience.
A Dangerous Game screens at Hot Docs in Toronto Friday, May 2 at 8:30 p.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema and Sunday, May 4 at 11 a.m. at Isabel Bader Theatre.