The 35th Cambridge Film Festival: Welcome to Leith

cambridge film festival logoThe Cambridge Film Festival, the UK’s third longest-running film festival returns 3rd – 13th September 2015 for its 35th edition, at the Arts Picturehouse, the Light Cinema and other venues across Cambridge. One of the UK’s most prestigious and well-respected film festivals, 2015 also celebrates Festival Director Tony Jones’s 30th anniversary with the festival, which has been shaped by Tony’s passion and exceptional knowledge of cinema.

This year’s festival features specially selected screenings for everyone, from parents with babies to retirees, the programme offers a diverse mix of films of short and feature length spanning different genres including 7 World Premieres, 55 UK Premieres, with films from more than 30 countries, plus special guests and complementary events and workshops, all scheduled at convenient times and locations. The Cambridge Film Festival is operated by the charitable Cambridge Film Trust and funded by BFI Film Forever. You can find out more about the festival at their website: http://www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk/

In this review, Owen takes a look at the Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominated documentary, Welcome to Leith.


by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

To coin an American phrase, you can bet your bottom dollar that come the end of the year as we start to round up our top ten lists, Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s Welcome to Leith will certainly be there for me.

Set in Leith, a small town in North Dakota with a population of just 24, Nichols and Walker document the unfolding nature of events shortly after the infamous white supremacist Craig Cobb moves into one of the run down vacant homes. Buying up plots of land, Cobb enacts his plan to legally take over the town government and establish Cobbsville, inviting white separatists and proud racists from all over the state to join him there. Understandably, the current residents of this typically quiet and peaceful rural town are agitated by their new neighbours and it’s not long until they become united in ridding themselves of the unwanted bigot.

Welcome to Leith has received a generally very positive festival run this year. On top its Grand Jury Prize nomination at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, it’s either won or been nominated for a further ten awards in 2015. Whilst the subject matter is inherently fascinating in a voyeuristic “as long as it isn’t happening in my own town” sense, what really makes it a compelling piece is how maturely the footage is presented. It could have easily slipped into a freak-show, encouraging the viewer to laugh and throw rotten fruit at all the prejudiced (and somewhat intimidating) nut jobs.

Instead, it comes across as an earnest attempt at getting you to think about human (and in the case of its American audience, their constitutional) rights and how conflicted they might make you feel when pushed to try and defend the actions of some people. How protected should Cobb and his friends feel when being jeered at by their neighbours, having their vehicles vandalised and being victimised by everyone in town for having their beliefs? Whose anti-social behaviour came first in this town? Is Cobb using or abusing his constitutional rights? They’re all questions that are addressed in the documentary and it does its best to leave those open to interpretation from the viewer. There’s very little attempt made to misguide the audience nor insult their intelligence.

There’s certainly no intention there to make you feel sympathy with one side or the other, either. The directors do a fantastic job at presenting the argument in as objective a manner as possible, using home video footage from both sides of the feud. We see interviews with the townsfolk who claim to be victims of domestic terrorism, and we hear how the Government themselves deal with this level of insecurity in their own country.

Obviously given the controversial and hateful opinions held by Cobb and his men, and the stomach churning footage of him desperately trying to get a rise out of his fellow Leith residents, it is difficult to not feel anything but disgust at these people. You are guaranteed to get angry about their behaviour and level of both ignorance nad arrogance. They’re clearly deluded and paranoid, and Cobb in particular loves the attention (although isn’t perhaps as charismatic as he thinks he is). Nevertheless, Welcome to Leith is an interesting, sometimes infuriating documentary and I highly recommend it.

Welcome to Leith is showing at The Light cinema on Thursday 10th September at 18:30 and again on Saturday 12th at 16:50. You can find more information and book tickets on the Cambridge Film Festival website.

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