Last Updated: August 19, 2015By Tags: , ,

Time to dust off the Frantz Fanon reader. Colonialism, as well as Africa, its oil, gold and religion are the ambiguous motifs this new documentary film slated for release next week aims to confronts.

For WE COME AS FRIENDS filmmaker Hubert Sauper swooped down into the context of his story, literally. He and his crew built a small aircraft especially for the film and flew it to the filming location, in South Sudan. This young nation is a confusing place to be in, let alone to make a movie about it.

Sudan was split into two countries in summer of 2011 and has been the theater of much behind-the-scenes drama, fueled by the self-aggrandizing and politicking of an ardent gaggle of oil profiteers, racket-friendly politicians, Christian missionaries, and American investors. Muslims are fighting for a piece of the action, too.

In the middle of this maelstrom of greed and volatility are your average Nubian citizen, who is very poor and doesn’t get to see any of the money being made. Cue to the Chinese workers whose sleeping quarters are bullet-proof and air-conditioned.

Another African country that’s rife with corruption South Sudan has the distinction of being able to produce 350,000 barrels a day of oil at around $ 100 a pop. That’s a lot of black gold. As it where, there’s also gold in the ground. The country is swimming in foreign capital (U.S. and China, mostly) and this money, as Sauper shows us, is but the accoutrement of the colonialization of South Sudan by foreign corporations. The U.S. and China both have enormous stakes in the oil and gold south Sudanese concessions. And with a nod and a thumbs-up from their governments multinational corporations pass off their hunger for gold and oil as the proverbial “mission civilisatrice.” Give us what’s in the ground and we’ll give you new infrastructure, technical skills and jobs creation.

After a new power plant is built the U.S. ambassador inaugurates it to much fanfare (and some protest). But, as the filmmaker commented in later interviews about this scene, you need a lot of electricity to extract gold from the ground and so the plant probably wasn’t built in a community that sits on a reserve of gold by accident.

FRIENDS asks, what does it mean to, and what are the consequences, when multiple players jockey for position to exploit the country’s natural resources under the guise of rekindly a country’s development? And what are the effects of this pillaging on the locals? (one commonly-held belief among them goes, even the moon belongs to the white man.)

As long as there will be oil, there will be conflict. But the dynamic changed: while in the past Christians fought the Muslims for a chance at the juicy oil trade, now it’s all about tribal and ethnic divisions within the country. As we’re shown in FRIENDS foreign oil investors are using these rifts to their advantage to pursue their own agenda. As Sauper reminds us, shawe’re constantly reminded that colonialism emerged on the back of a divide-and-conquer policy.

WE COME AS FRIENDS, a resourceful and entertaining documentary, was shown last year in the Berlinale Special section. The Austrian-born Sauper previously received notice for his film DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE, which got nominated for an Academy Award.

WE COME AS FRIENDS will be released on August 14th, 2015.

Director Hubert Sauper

Director Hubert Sauper

Still from the film

Still from the film