“We Come As Friends,” Hubert Sauper’s teeming, Brueghel-and-Bosch-pursuing documentary portrait of chaos after colonialism in battle-torn South Sudan is more eye-widening, surreal, sorrowful and anarchic than his earlier “Darwin’s Nightmare.” The film’s intensity is best captured by its trailer, and a couple of things he said in a couple of conversations I had with him at the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival back in March for Filmmaker. Sauper looks like and sounds like a diplomat, but he’s an affable radical who speaks in long, loping paragraphs about the necessity of documentary that aspires to cinematic character. “They talk about your movie, not money. I like this festival,” Sauper said. “It is heroic!” Esteeming what he called “the spark between the movie and the audience,” Sauper answered a man who said he wanted to write documentaries, “Welcome!” Another audience member wondered if he meant to change the world. “I’m sorry, I cannot pretend to describe the dilemmas of our time and also give you a solution, a way out,” Sauper said patiently. “I don’t even want to put a website at the end of a film, where you can donate. It’s bullshit; I don’t want to do that. Honestly, if you feel helpless, it’s sad. Ideally I hope that people are inspired and confused and enraged and fascinated.” And what is the work of the documentary filmmaker? “Most of it is thinking. A very small part of it is shooting. Working for six years on a film that is two hours long, most of the time is making detours, asking questions. It’s necessary to go through all that, and the film is the quintessence of that experience.” 109m. (Ray Pride)
“We Come As Friends” opens Friday, August 28 at Facets. The trailer and a clip are below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.