Friday, 13 May 2016

Welcome to Leith

Welcome to Leith is an American documentary that shows the small community of left-behind Leith, Dakota, facing against a horde of white supremacists who  want to use the town to build their own separate community. Leading the group is Craig Cobb, a renowned white nationalist who had caused quite an upset in America before the events of this documentary had even happened. Cobb starts buying property in Leith, which he then deeds out to leaders of various other white supremacist groups, such as Alex Linder of the Vanguard News Network (anti-Jewish organisation) and Tom Metzger of the White Aryan Resistance. The groups then move into the town, bringing their own flags and beliefs with them, and it is here that we start to see the struggle that the residents face to get their town back to the peaceful place it once was.

There are two things that in my opinion can ruin a documentary – unnecessary bias, and over-stylised gimmicks that play down the essential realism of the film. Thankfully, Welcome to Leith exhibited neither. It’s all too easy for a documentary be become one-sided from the very beginning – particularly when it involves political and moral beliefs – but the viewers were given a chance to hear Cobb and the others talk about what they were doing and why, which I really respected. Of course, the documentary highlighted a very important opinion – that racial hatred is not a good thing. However, it did so without lowering the level to that of the opposition.

The style was also really raw and easy to watch, with a variety of different methods used to convey what was going on. As well as interviews and documentary footage, we also got to listen to police calls, view footage from the other side, and be presented with news and media clips that all helped to give a bigger picture of how much Leith has been affected. The residents were interviewed repeatedly over the whole documentary, and it felt personal to them, as we got to get a lot of insight into their everyday lives.

I found myself feeling quite angry at parts, but it was interesting to watch an American documentary as an English person, as both countries have such a different way of life. I found it quite eye-opening to perceive differences in the law and public safety, as well as being able to see a real thing happening that can’t quite be matched over here. Sure, we have issues with racial hatred over here as well, but America seems to suffer a lot more with it, and so I can only imagine how threatened many people over there feel by it.

Sadly, I didn’t feel like the situation was resolved by the end of the film, which sort of puts the whole safety thing into perspective again. It really highlighted the blurred lines between freedom of speech and hate speech, and showed just how easy it is to gain momentum as a hate group in the modern day (and how hard it is to fight against it, unfortunately). I did some further reading on Cobb after watching the documentary and it appears he’s tried to do the whole thing again since Leith in two other towns, which really just brings home how big an issue this is for America.

Some parts could have done with more subtitling, as unfortunately some of the audio was a bit hard to hear, but I felt overall that the film served its purpose really well. It was gripping to watch, and on a really interesting topic.

I give it a 4/5.


Hannah Read

Welcome to Leith at CeX

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