Welcome To Leith

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A white supremacist attempts to take over a small town in North Dakota.
"Unsettling, probing and smart, they may only be looking at a town of 24 but this film has implications for people across the world."

The Leith in question here is not the Sunshine destination of The Proclaimers but a tiny hamlet in North Dakota with a population of a mere 24, including children. If somewhere that small seems an unlikely setting for a documentary, you might also say it is almost unbelievable that it became the target for a far-right takeover - and yet that is exactly what happened.

In what might be seen as a metaphor for society where extreme views can take hold without you realising it, the townsfolk were blithely unaware of this 'grand plan' when bearded loner Craig Cobb moved into town in 2012 and started to buy up additional properties. What they didn't realise was that Cobb was a notorious neo-Nazi intent on creating a white supremacist enclave, intending to move in fellow 'believers' in a bid to outweigh the town's other citizens in terms of town hall votes.

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The main strength of Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K Walker's film is that it doesn't take sides as you might expect. They have an immense amount of access both to the long-standing residents of Leith and Cobb and his associates and, while there is most certainly plenty that is sinister about Cobb's plan and his grandstanding in the town - his home is decked out like a Nazi birthday cake and he is happy to spout bile at town hall meetings - there is also something unsettling about the similarly 'railroading' way that the locals react. Their desire to foil his plan is more than understandable but a sense of fear that leads people to declare, "We're going to start packing [guns] all the time" raises questions about how easy it is for these things to spiral out of control, especially considering the 'loose arm of the law' exhibited here.

There is an uneasy feeling surrounding the notions of free speech and how they may protect the likes of Cobb - never more relevant, perhaps, with hate crimes on the rise across the world - while the directors also raise questions of how easy it is for someone super-smart like the neo-Nazi to convince those of perhaps more limited intelligence that what they are proposing is moderate rather than repugnant. One of his cohorts, the Hitler-moustache sporting Kynan Dutton (dismayingly, an Iraq war veteran), makes comments about them only being a "white civil rights group" that chill to the bone. The police, meanwhile, come over as largely impotent, with the townsfolk having to resort to more involved methods of evicting Cobb and his chums. Unsettling, probing and smart, they may only be looking at a town of 24 but this film has implications for people across the world.

Reviewed on: 16 Feb 2015
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A white supremacist attempts to take over a small town in North Dakota.
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Director: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker

Writer: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker

Year: 2015

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


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