Skip to main content

Meet the Filmmakers: Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson--'Mugabe and the White African'

By Tom White

Over the next month, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work will be represented in the DocuWeeksTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, July 31-August 20 in New York City and Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films–the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.

So, to kick off this series of conversations, here are Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson, directors of Mugabe and the White African

Synopsis: Michael Campbell is one of the few hundred white farmers left in Zimbabwe since President Robert Mugabe began his violent "Land Reform" program in 2000. Since then the country has descended into chaos. In 2008 Mike took the unprecedented step of challenging Mugabe in an International Court, accusing him and his government of racial discrimination and violations of basic human rights.  What follows is an intimate, moving and often terrifying account of one man and his family's extraordinary courage in the face of overwhelming injustice and brutality. Set against the tumultuous 2008 presidential elections, Mugabe and the White African follows Mike and son-in-law Ben Freeth's harrowing attempt to save their farm and with it the homes and livelihoods of 500 black workers and their families. Filmed over 12 months, a gripping courtroom drama unfolds while Mike, his family and the farm workers face the all too real threats of Mugabe's wrath on the farm. After months of frightening threats and a horrific attack, the Court's judges finally rule unanimously in Mike's and Ben's favor. They return to the farm. But will Mugabe and his henchmen abide the Courts decision?

IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Lucy Bailey: I studied anthropology and spent a lot of time in Africa. I worked my way up from being a junior researcher initially in natural history films, and I then went on to research a major series about Africa for National Geographic, which is where Andrew and I met.

Andrew Thompson: I have always known I've wanted to make films. My first break in the industry was as a camera assistant, and I subsequently went on to become a DP.  I really like having a craft skill like camera work, but I've always viewed it as a means to making my own films one day.

IDA: What inspired you to make Mugabe and the White African?

LB and AT: We've both traveled and filmed extensively in Africa, and it is the source of the most amazing stories just waiting to be told. For a long time we'd been aware of the crisis in Zimbabwe, but we were looking for the right story to make an engaging and compelling film that would attract the widest possible audience.

When we heard about the Campbell case, we knew it could work if the characters were strong enough. When we met Mike and Ben, we realized immediately that not only would they be great characters to carry the film, but their extraordinary bravery and determination in defying Mugabe was in itself hugely inspiring.

IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

LB and AT: It was always going to be difficult making a film in Zimbabwe; to be caught filming there would have meant imprisonment. We had to plan extensively and have watertight logistics and cover stories. It was all very James Bond.

The fact that the court case stretched over a long period of time meant that we were never sure if we would ever be able to get the end of the film! With the case being postponed again and again, and with the political situation in Zimbabwe being so fluid, we had to be ready to respond quickly to changing circumstances.  

Funding was, and still is, a major obstacle. We have routinely spent money we don't have, and are still massively in debt not only to ourselves but to many people who have helped us in making this film.

IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?

LB and AT: Our ambition grew for the film as it progressed. The case became caught up in the wider political situation in Zimbabwe-namely, the two presidential elections. None of us could have foreseen this. It has complicated the production, financing and delivery schedule, but we feel that has resulted in a much better film. It became a more important story to tell, with huge implications for human rights around the world, and we hope the film appeals to a much wider audience than we initially imagined.

IDA:  As you've screened Mugabe and the White African-whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms-how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

LB and AT: It has been incredible to see how strongly the audiences have reacted to the film. It really delivers many emotional punches and it is amazing to sit in with the audience as they go through the emotional roller coaster of the film. Sometimes the cinema is so quiet you could hear a pin drop, and then you know people are really hooked; they are "in" the story.

IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?

LB and AT: We are influenced by people from both the factual documentary world and Hollywood drama. Kevin MacDonald, Brian Woods, Sofia Coppola, Danny Boyle, Phil Agland and Paul Greengrass are directors whose work we admire.

Some of the feature docs that have been inspirational for us include Darwin's Nightmare, Etre et Avoir and Grizzly Man.



Mugabe and the White African will be screening at the ArcLight Hollywood Cinema in Los Angeles and the IFC Center in New York City.

To download the DocuWeeksTM program in Los Angeles, click here.

To purchase tickets for DocuWeeksTM in Los Angeles, click here.

To download the DocuWeeksTM program in New York, click here.

To purchase tickets for DocuWeeksTM in New York, click here.