NEW YORK (Reuters) - British filmmaker Anthony Baxter learned the hard way what it would take to make his debut feature documentary: Getting arrested, re-mortgaging his house for funding and personally phoning cinema houses to screen his film.
Those might seem like familiar hardships to documentary makers. But add to that mix taking on U.S. business magnate Donald Trump over a proposed $1.5 billion golf and hotel resort in Scotland, and Baxter hesitates when asked whether he would do it once more.
“It has been very difficult, I wouldn’t necessarily want to do it again,” the former BBC television producer said in an interview. “But I do think it is so important that we hold people in power to account as journalists and filmmakers.”
Baxter’s “You’ve Been Trumped” opened in select U.S. cinemas on Friday, more than three years after he picked up his camera when the Scottish parliament overruled a local council in Aberdeenshire to let Trump build two 18-hole golf courses and a 450-room luxury hotel on 1,400 hectares (3,460 acres) of coastal land.
The film portrays Trump as a cartoonish celebrity tycoon pitted against hardy local residents whose lives and homes are disrupted by the project. It also aims to examine the economic benefits of thousands of jobs promised by Trump versus the environmental impact on rare sand dunes in the Menie Estate, which Trump bought in 2005.
“It is a case of being wooed by a ludicrous projection of jobs, the celebrity of Donald Trump and wanting to believe this was going to bring all this prosperity and not safeguarding the land, which is so rare and important to Scotland,” Baxter said.
“The locals in the film are doing the job the politicians should have been doing. They were standing by the environment.”
The Trump Organization said the film was a “gross misrepresentation of the facts.”
Baxter says Trump, who once said he would build the greatest golf course in the world, repeatedly declined requests for an interview, as did Scottish parliamentarians and local police. Baxter himself is shown being arrested in one scene while interviewing a resident.
Trump is shown at press events calling himself an environmentalist while branding as “disgusting” the property of local farmer Michael Forbes, who with his elderly mother and other residents refuse to sell their properties to the developers.
Forbes and neighbors are shown banding together while being intimidated by security vehicles, have their water shut off and watch while one neighbor’s home is surrounded by a mound of bulldozed earth. Sand dunes are flattened while police stand by.
Baxter, 42, who has lived for the past eight years in the nearby Scottish town of Montrose, said Americans may see common cases of economic benefits trumping environmental impact.
But he said British audiences hardly stereotype all Americans as behaving like Trump.
“It is certainly a cultural chasm that you see portrayed in the film between Trump the tycoon coming in and the local residents. But I think people in Scotland see beyond the American that is Trump. They know ordinary American people also feel worried about this kind of stuff,” he said.
George Sorial, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said in a statement that the film exploited the Trump name, was “a complete fraud and a gross misrepresentation of the facts” and that the project was supported by local leaders, businesses and the community.
“This film only presents the myopic views of a very small fringe element that are not respected and are widely regarded as a national embarrassment for Scotland,” he said, adding the project has so far employed “hundreds” and was a future economic investment.
Baxter had trouble securing funding for the film, partly because some British and U.S. TV executives preferred him to have access to Trump, he noted. But Baxter said “the danger then is you end up with a story of flying around with Trump in a 757 and it becomes a very, very different kettle of fish.”
After re-mortgaging his house and raising funds on the Internet, his greatest battle was distribution, which led him to phone cinema managers in Scotland to ask them to show the film.
He now has wider distribution and thinks that in the end, the film has been worth it. “We are the voice the landscape doesn’t have,” he said.
But for now, the battle depicted in the film continues.
The first golf course opened in July despite an open letter by the Scottish Wildlife Trust written to golfers including Colin Montgomerie not to play there. The second course has yet to begin construction. Trump has not built the hotel because he now objects to plans for a local offshore wind farm.
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Dale Hudson