HIs Big White Self (UK, 2006, Director: Nick Broomfield, 94 minutes): I’m a bit sheepish to admit that this is the first Nick Broomfield documentary that I’ve seen. From what I’ve heard, Broomfield was one of the first documentary filmmakers to insert himself into the narrative, and like Michael Moore, he can sometimes be more of a distraction than necessary.
This film is a companion piece to his 1991 film The Leader, His Driver, and the Driver’s Wife, which was a portrait of South African white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche. It would be a good idea to see that film first, I think, since this film refers to many events from the earlier film. In the 1990s, after the collapse of apartheid, Terreblanche’s group, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (the Afrikaans acronym is AWB), was responsible for a rash of bombings that killed several people. His followers also violently disrupted gatherings of the ANC and other political opponents, and eventually, Terreblanche faced prison time for some of these crimes (as well as for some more personal misdeeds, like assault and attempted murder). Ridiculously, he serves only three years in prison, and Broomfield returns in 2004 just as he is being released, hoping to interview him again.
As a side note, in the first film, he never sits for a formal interview and Broomfield is reduced to chasing him around trying to provoke confrontations. In the same vein, this time Terreblanche refuses to meet the film crew for an interview (and in fact is prohibited from conducting political interviews as part of his parole), so Broomfield ends up disguising himself and pretending to be seeking an interview regarding a book of poetry Terreblanche has coming out. While these scenes are both funny and tense, it means the “interview” itself is pretty devoid of meaningful statements from The Leader.
Most of the interesting interviews are with the Driver of the first film, J.P. Meyer. An affable man now into his sixties, J.P. seems to really like Broomfield. But just when the audience is warming to him, he spouts some racist nonsense. Men like Meyer are pitiable even in their hatred. Desperate to hold onto their white privilege, and cloaking it in religious language, they’re now growing old as bitter men.
Terreblanche is a fascinating character. A fiery orator who has based much of his movement and mannerisms on the German National Socialist (Nazi) Party, he constantly paints himself as a victim, and even though mellower now, is still convinced that his cause is right.
The film was hugely enjoyable but slighly flawed for two reasons. First, it really can’t be judged apart from the first film, which I haven’t seen (and which doesn’t appear to be widely available; it’s not even on DVD here in North America). Secondly, Broomfield’s discomfort is played mostly for laughs. The AWB at the zenith of its power had half a million members out of a white population of four million. Even with some of their cartoonish fascist posturing, they were a dangerous and violent group. Even though Broomfield speaks of receiving death threats after the first film, you don’t get the sense of danger in this one. Perhaps the AWB’s power really has disappeared. But when you see how little has changed in some parts of the countryside, you’re left feeling not so sure.