Sometimes you have to take a stand. Such was the case when director Anthony Baxter set out to document a David and Goliath tale for the 21st Century. In this David and Goliath story for the 21st century, a group of proud Scottish homeowners take on a celebrity tycoon. At stake is one of Britain’s very last stretches of wilderness.
American billionaire Donald Trump has bought up hundreds of acres on the northeast coast of Scotland, best known to movie-lovers as the setting for the 1983 classic film Local Hero. And like the American oil tycoon played by Burt Lancaster, he needs to buy out a few more locals to make the deal come true. In a land swimming with golf courses, Trump is going to build two more – alongside a 450-room hotel and 1,500 luxury homes. The trouble is, the land he has purchased occupies one of Europe’s most environmentally sensitive stretches of coast, described by one leading scientist as Scotland’s Amazon rain forest. And the handful of local residents don’t want it destroyed.
After the Scottish Government overturns its own environmental laws to give Trump the green light, the stage is set for an extraordinary summer of discontent, as the bulldozers spring into action. Water and power is cut off, land disputes erupt, and some residents have thousands of tonnes of earth piled up next to their homes. Complaints go ignored by the police, who instead arrest the film’s director, Anthony Baxter. Local exasperation comes to a surreal head as the now “Dr” Trump scoops up an honorary doctorate from a local university, even as his tractors turn wild, untouched dunes into fairways.
Told entirely without narration, You’ve Been Trumped captures the cultural chasm between the glamorous, jet-setting and media savvy Donald Trump and a deeply rooted Scottish community. What begins as an often amusing clash of world views grows increasingly bitter and disturbing. For the tycoon, the golf course is just another deal, with a possible billion dollar payoff. For the residents, it represents the destruction of a globally unique landscape that has been the backdrop for their lives.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with director Anthony Baxter to discuss the making of his documentary, the challenges involved in bringing it to screens worldwide and how the film has impacted the project that poses such a threat to one of Scotland’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to speak with us today, sir.
I appreciate you talking to me! Thank you very much!
Tell us a little about what led you to make your documentary, “You’ve Been Trumped.”
I really wanted to get to the truth about what was happening in this story. It was happening just up the road from where I live. Donald Trump said he was going to be building this golf course resort and would be bringing all of these jobs as a promise but I knew environmental impact was going to be pretty severe. These dunes are very rare and they move and shift like no other sand dunes do in Europe, they are the crown jewels of our natural heritage — the Amazon rain forest of Scotland. No one seemed to be reporting that fact locally. In the newspapers of Aberdeen, they seemed to be obsessed with Donald Trump’s celebrity and these ludicrous claims about jobs.
I just felt it was important to try and document what was going to happen to the landscape as well as the effects on the local people, ordinary people who didn’t want to see this development happen and wanted to live their lives peacefully in this beautiful stretch of Scotland. I felt those people needed to be given a voice. It was really a case of setting out to document it, rather than setting out to make a feature documentary film. That came about by the events that unfolded as I started to document what was happening.
Tell us a little about your thoughts on the approach to making this film as you started out.
Yeah, I think I definitely wanted to have it without any narration because I wanted people to make up their own minds about what was happening. At the same time, I think the clips of “Local Hero,” which were used in the film, which was an iconic Scottish drama film from the 1980s, was very much a reflection of the situation that was unfolding — a real-life local hero. I felt like I wanted to try and use those clips to illustrate that point. I think it really just evolved. It wasn’t really set out to emulate any particular filmmaker or filmmaking style. It was one of those things where, as things unfolded, I just let the story speak for itself as much as possible, and where possible, as well, hold those in authority to account. That was obviously difficult because Donald Trump refused an interview as did the police and the local Scottish government, as well. So, we do what we can, really telling the story of what came into the camera over the course of a year or two and lay it out on the screen for people to make up their own minds.
The movie illustrates this very well but were you surprised how many people were seemingly on the take or just willing to stand by and let this happen?
There were so many dangerous precedents set as the events unfolded. We have the Scottish government being wooed by Donald Trump’s celebrity and the ludicrous claims of jobs. We have the local police working as Donald Trump’s private security force. Certainly, my experience didn’t make me think anything otherwise as they were doing an interview with one of Mr. Trump’s workers and the next minute we are in prison cells having had our DNA, fingerprints and our camera equipment taken. We were in a situation, all of the time it seemed, while making the film that was very, very worrying. It was not just me saying this, obviously, but The National Union of Journalists in Britain saying that this raised very serious questions about press freedom. We were asking questions and the people in power and this is the response. I don’t think this is just an isolated case in Scotland. I think this happens all over the world and that is why I think this is more of an international story. All over the world, people are battling against this kind of thing — money and power running, seemingly riding rough over the lives of ordinary people and our planet and the people feeling powerless up against it. Whether it is in Scotland in this case or New York CIty, where developments are suddenly happening and people are realizing that they have no say, is a sign of our times unfortunately. I think we need to change the way in which we deal with this stuff because our planet can’t afford it.
So much happened to you along the course of making this film. Looking back on the process and all that happened, what do you consider the biggest challenge in bringing it to the screen?
I had to remortgage my house to make it because none of the broadcasters would support it. Making films independently, you rely hugely on television money coming in to allow you to start filming. There was none of that and no one wanted the project. They kept asking me, “Do you have access to Donald Trump?” I said, “No. I want to tell the story of the environment and the local people. I have asked him for an interview but at this stage, he hasn’t given me one.” The broadcasters didn’t support it and the agencies in Scotland, that are supposed to support the creative arts, refused to fund the film. It was very much a case of, “Do I just carry on doing this?” I remortgaged the house and we raised the rest on the Internet through crowdfunding on www.indiegogo.com. Once we finished the film and competed in the first film festival, we really seemed to strike a chord with people and then other film festivals played it. Getting it from that stage to now, where we are actually getting it into some theaters in the UK, it has been playing successfully throughout the last couple of weeks. In the United States, we are just now starting out. It is a complete and utter battle all of the time. Financially, it can be very draining! [laughs] There is nothing new on that front! I think in a way, that battle pales in comparison in significance to the battle faced by the local residence and the people who are in the film who have tried so hard to stand up for their environment. In a way, that makes it all worthwhile.
What is the current status of Trump’s project and how has the film impacted it?
The first golf course opened a couple of weeks ago. Donald Trump was over in Scotland. I spent the day of the opening with the local residents, speaking with them. They were just standing by, watching helplessly as the Trump-mobile rolled into town again. What you have there now is just a golf course — none of the facilities that were promised. The hotels and the housing were what was supposed to bring all of the jobs. None of those things have happened. Environmentally, it is a disaster because this golf course has destroyed a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The things that were supposed to provide economic prosperity have not occurred. I think that is a tragedy for the environment as well as for Scotland. Lessons have to be learned from it. That is what the local people were saying to me, “Look, this is a tragedy and never again do we want this to happen to Scotland.” Donald Trump is saying, in any case, he probably won’t build the hotel or anything else unless the government in Scotland stops a wind farm off the coast, which he says will spoil the view for his golfers. It seems the local people, and they usually turn out to be right about these things, believe he is using the wind farm as an excuse because he knows the economics don’t add up. Throughout the process, Trump has been blaming various things for not doing the hard building work, which is the thing that would drive any kind of economic prosperity but those economics are flawed anyway. We have to ask ourselves if we want those kind of low pay jobs, such as people caddying, cutting grass on a golf course or serving drinks to wealthy Americans and Brits, at the price of destroying priceless environments. Like I said, this is happening all over the world, where these type of decisions are being made.
The film is an impressive piece of work. That being said, being a fan, what is the best way for like-minded people to support this project?
If you can spread the word on the film, that is really what the local people want. They have told me that personally and said it publicly at all the screenings we have held in Scotland where they have attended and been asked questions from the audience. They feel that the film shows what they have been through — fairly and accurately. They have been incredibly supported by people in America who have written to them after seeing the film. Taking action on a local level is very important. In situations where developments come in and developers say they are going to do all of this stuff — don’t take their promises and ludicrous claims about jobs at face value. Scrutinize them at their every point because once the development goes up, it is really, really difficult to turn back the clock. We have a website, www.youvebeentrumped.com, that has links to groups who can provide more information as well as information on the film itself.
That is great. What is next up for you as a filmmaker? Do you have your eye on any other projects at the moment that will lead to you being behind the camera again soon?
Yeah, I would like to do it again soon. One of the realities is that trying to get the film out there has become a bit of a full-time job, so the camera has been under wraps for a while! [laughs] It would be great to start filming something else. Exactly what that would be, I am not sure. At this stage, it could be some of the stories we have been told about while showing this film in various parts of the world such as Croatia. We showed the film there and the people said, “That is our story too!” I started doing a little filming around a story that was unfolding there. Whether or not I have the energy and finance to do anything else is quite another story! [laughs] Oh dear!
Thank you for your time today, Anthony. I appreciate it and thank you for bringing attention to this matter with such a wonderful film.
I really appreciate it, Jason. Thanks a lot, sir!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.