Interview With 'A Dangerous Game' Documentary Filmmaker Anthony Baxter
Documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist Anthony Baxter is back to being a thorn in Donald Trump’s side – and for good reason – in “A Dangerous Game.”
In the sequel to his 2011 award-winning film, “You’ve Been Trumped,” Baxter once again follows the American billionaire and his building of a golf course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. This time around, however, Baxter examines other greedy “super rich” characters that want to turn some of the world’s most precious locations into golf courses and luxurious playgrounds, at the expense of natural resources and habitats.
The David-and-Goliath-inspired documentary is both heartbreaking and rousing as it takes us from beautiful Scotland to the historic site of Dubrovnik to various parts of the U.S. where we encounter impassioned local residents, including actor Alec Baldwin and environmental activist and lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr., who are willing to tackle bullying tycoons in order to protect their lands.
Ecorazzi spoke with Baxter about his film, including what surprised him most and what it was like to finally speak with Trump himself.
What made you decide to pursue a sequel of sorts to “You’ve Been Trumped”?
It was really because I had made the first film because I live very close to where Donald Trump was building this golf course. When he first came to Scotland, which was in 2006, he was greeted with such a state welcome, the red carpet, the bagpipes. And all the press and media were reported how great his golf course was going to be, and how he was going to create all of these jobs, and it was going to mean 6000 new jobs, and it was the greatest golf course in the world. And because I had made a documentary for the BBC earlier about the erosion sand dunes in Montrose where I live, I knew the sand dunes in Abderdeenshire were very precious indeed and nobody was reporting on that. So when I was making the film, which really was a driving need to get to the truth, I remortgaged this house and worked very hard to get the film out there, and we found that people were dealing with the same kind of issues in other communities in the world. People said in Dubrovnik, “there’s a very similar story unfolding on our doorstep,” who isn’t Donald Trump but it’s somebody like him in that he has a lot of money and he has the ear of the government. And this seemed like something that happened time and time again wherever I went. So it just emerged, really, that journey.
I was privileged to travel to many places, including the United States, where I found various examples of the same thing there. In the U.S., there is the concern of water and the consumption of water on golf courses and that was a running theme that ran all the way through. In Scotland, we might not have the same water concerns as California, but we do have a beautiful dunescape that was being destroyed to build a gated community for wealthy people. And that is happening in different places of the world where there are different pressures, whether it’s the water or the landscape. But as Robert Kennedy Jr. says in the film, wherever you see environmental injury, you see the subversion of democracy. And I think that was also another powerful thing that I wanted to cover in the film: that democracy is twisted and corrupted whenever the environment is being destroyed.
I was surprised to learn about the major environmental implications that these golf courses create. What surprised you most when you were filming the doc?
Well, I think it is the scale of these environmental catastrophes around the world. If you look at, for example, the golf course in Vegas where I go to in the film. It has a man-made lake in the center of it and uses billions of gallons of water every year and it’s used just as a landscaping feature for golfers, which is just bonkers. I think you get to the point where, we go to the gold golf club in Dubai where they have grass flown in from Georgia, and it’s just completely crazy. And Donald Trump has announced that he will build another golf course in Dubai with Tiger Woods designing it, and this is another golf course in the desert. There are parts of the world where golf isn’t native to the landscape. People are going to fly in and fly out again to just play a few rounds of golf with their exclusive buddies. I think it’s just gotten to this ludicrous scale and that it seems no signs really of a downward trend. And I think the planet can’t afford all of this.
This time around, you actually get to interview Donald Trump. Why do you think he decided to talk to you?
It’s a curious thing really. In the first film, he avoided me at every possible moment. Me and my colleague were arrested, thrown in jail and charged with a criminal offence because of one Donald Trump’s workers didn’t like being asked why an 83-year-old woman had her water cut off by one of his workers. At every point when I asked him questions about the impact that his development was having on the environment, he refused to answer those questions during the first film. With this one, I was at the Top Scot awards where Michael Forbes, who refused to leave his land for Trump’s development and was featured in the first film, won the top award. I was at the ceremony because I thought it was good to have that footage as record of Michael. While I was there, I spoke to a reporter from the Scotsman newspaper who asked me if I was going to do another film, and I said that I might actually because I thought there was still a story there. The next day, that story was published and Trump’s lawyer called me up and said that we should have a conversation about my next film. So I went to meet him and Donald Trump Jr., which was featured in this film, and it was then when I said, “Well, I’d like to interview your father.” It surprised me that [Donald Trump] was pretty forthcoming in that interview. He did insist on having editorial control, but of course we weren’t going to concede that. So, yes, he did the interview and he says in the interview, “Well, since the BBC ran your first film, I think you’re important enough for me to give you my time.” That may tell you how he was thinking about it.
Were you satisfied with his interview?
Yeah, I think it was absolutely the right moment. I would have liked to do the interview years previous, to be honest, but I think it was important to put before him the questions the residents wanted answering to, which, up until the point, he had declined to answer. Obviously I couldn’t ask him time-dependent questions. There are a lot more questions that I’d like to ask him now since that was filmed. But at the end of the day, there are other people who were also needing to answer questions about that whole development [in Abderdeen]. Mainly about the Scottish government. Whatever you think about Donald Trump, he is a developer and he’s allowed to do whatever the government allows him to do. I think the terrible thing about that story is that lessons haven’t been learned. We have seen the same thing that’s been repeated in Ireland where he’s building another golf course and he’s been in a dispute with the County Clerk Council. He’s threatened to sue since they told him to stop building rock armor on the beach because there’s a rare protected snail on the beach that he hadn’t figured into his plans. And in Scotland, we can also see it happening again. He’s in a constant dispute over the wind farms saying he doesn’t want a wind farm on the coast because it will ruin the view for his golf course. He’s lost again with that one [earlier this month]. But he’s saying that he’ll never have a fair hearing in Scotland, so then he says he’ll go to the English courts, then to the European courts as if he’s going to get a different response. People like Donald Trump aren’t happy unless they get their own way.
You tell the stories of local surrounds concerning the luxury golf courses in the East Hamptons and in Croatia. Do you believe the Davids in the world who are fighting Goliaths, like Trump, stand a chance?
Well, I think they do, but I think it’s incredibly tough. I think what the Croatia story shows in the film, when the Davids get together and they form a very impressive group of people who will fight together, then they have more of a chance. And in Scotland, the local residents stood together and they united. Before this happened, they weren’t very close. They had similar beliefs about protecting the environment, but they weren’t going down together to the local pub and sharing a pint. This common fight of decency, of what’s right and standing up for the planet, it united them. They’re not environmentalists, but they’re prepared to put the environment first. And that’s what happened in the Dubrovnik story. But what’s troubling about that is that even though they won the referendum, the government said they’re going to [build the golf course] anyway. And that’s the tragedy of it. When a local community uses the democratic process to prove that something isn’t wanted, which clearly was the case there, the government turns around and does it anyway. In Dubrovnik’s case, they’ve continued to fight and, now, the development has been deemed illegal in the courts because it’s essentially too large and UNESCO wasn’t aware of the scale of the development. Since the film went came out, UNESCO is looking at it again. So when people aren’t prepared to accept the bullying of the super rich, there’s a chance, but it’s hard. And it’s far harder than it should be but that’s because, I think, processes are broken, including the democratic process.
How can impassioned viewers help? While I was watching the film, I thought, “I’ll never play golf.” However, I don’t think that’s ultimately the right answer.
The thing on the golf front, where I live here, the golf course is 450 years old and the golf is for the people and everyone could play and it wasn’t an exclusive sport. I don’t have anything against golf as a game, but I think the way it is now in thee gated communities, I do have a problem. At the end of the day, what people can do is fight for, essentially, the rare spaces that are so valuable and precious that are running out because of these developers who come along and make these promises. I think the number one thing is don’t pay attention to those promises because they turn out to be a complete lie. They have to continue the fight against it.
I think the other thing that needs to changes are the processes, the democratic processes, that allow these developments to happen. Here in Scotland, nothing has changed since Trump has been allowed to build his golf course, so it could happen again today. And I think that’s the tragedy. So despite the outpouring of public frustration and upset at what they saw when the first film was broadcast by BBC, despite that and despite that Michael Forbes won the Scotsman award, an 83-year-old woman still doesn’t have running water and that’s because of Donald Trump’s workers. And that was years ago, and it’s still not sorted out. I think that’s absolutely disgraceful. How these developments happen at people’s doorsteps needs to be addressed and I think it’s very important that it’s not forgotten. Journalism has such an important role to play because we have so few resources to investigate these things at a local level, so often they will go through without people questioning them. There are not local newspapers looking into them because papers run on such a shoestring now. I think there’s power to people getting together, including on the Internet, to stand up for what’s right and for the environment.
“A Dangerous Game” drops on June 23 on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant, Vimeo on Demand, and www.adangerousgamemovie.com
Watch the trailer, here: