Need another reason to hate Donald Trump? Welcome to the documentary “You’ve Been Trumped.”
[This feature orignally ran during HotDocs 2011, where the film world premiered. It comes out in select theaters this Friday.]
“Could you please now make a documentary about why Donald Trump should not be the President of the United States?” an audience member pleaded after the film’s screening during Hot Docs, where the film world premiered.
“I think we’ve already made that film,” producer Richard Phinney replied.
Indeed they did. If there was any remaining question of Trump’s moral ambiguity, “You’ve Been Trumped,” which made its world premiere Tuesday night, destroys it. A David & Goliath tale without the happy ending, “Trumped” details what happens when Donald Trump decides to build a hotel and golf course just north of Aberdeen, Scotland (the same setting of Bill Forsyth’s “Local Hero,” the 1983 film that the doc eerily mirrors).
Trump’s project has the potential to force people from their homes against their will and destroy the ecosystem surrounding the UK’s last natural sand dunes. No matter; Trump forges ahead with little regard for any of it. His motives are significantly aided by the Scottish government (who vetoed the local government’s rejection of Trump’s plans) and the local police, who act more like Trump’s goons than protectors of their constituency.
It’s all captured by director Anthony Baxter and Phinney, both of whom spent a year with the folks most directly affected by Trump’s plans. The story’s main protagonists — and Trump’s antagonists — are Michael Forbes, a farmer whose land borders Trump’s development, and his mother, Molly. Trump’s problem with Forbes? He doesn’t want people staying on the Trump golf course to have their view sullied by the sight of Forbes’ working farm.
Trump publicly bullies Forbes on multiple occasions. “I look at Mr. Forbes,” Trump says in the film. “And it’s about time someone spoke out. For people to have to look at that virtual slum is a disgrace. He is not a respected man among the people he lives with. He is a pig.”
By all appearances, Forbes is actually a good-natured, humble man repeatedly shocked by the actions of Trump & Co., as when his water is shut off for over a week after Trump’s contractors accidentally destroy his well system. When he tries to report the issue, police — who grow increasingly hostile toward anti-Trump sentiment throughout the film — refuse to do anything.
Baxter and Phinney’s attachment to Forbes and his community eventually turns “Trumped” into a team effort. Using their own cameras, Forbes and his friends shoot footage of Trump’s workers slowly destroying the land. And when Baxter and Phinney try to investigate why Forbes’ requests to restore his water supply are ignored, things turn ugly. In a downright violent altercation, the police arrest Baxter with vague reasoning after he questions the water issue. While he was released later that day and the charges were eventually dropped, the conflict made clear whose side the police were on.
As for Trump himself, Baxter and Phinney do an excellent job capturing his hypocrisy with their limited to the man. (He refused to be interviewed directly for the film.) At one press conference, they capture him boasting: “This project has received tremendous support from environmental groups. This is actually the greatest thing I’ve ever done for the environment.”
Finished just 10 days before its world premiere at Hot Docs, “Trumped” went into production with absolutely no budget and became a reality in large part via crowdsourcing.
“We are so grateful to those people,” Baxter said. “We had no support from broadcasters and the Edinburgh International Film Festival — which is funded by the Scottish government — refused to show it. Sometimes in life when you’re a filmmaker or a journalist you feel very, very passionately that a story needs to be told and documented. That’s our job. Otherwise, these kinds of situations will go completely unreported or they’ll be reported in a very one-sided way.”
Trump has yet to publicly acknowledge the film. The filmmakers are bracing for when he does.
“A year ago when I pitched it, someone said to me, ‘I hope you got a good lawyer,'” Baxter said at the film’s Q&A. “I said ‘Oh no, I haven’t, but that shouldn’t stop me from making the film.’ These people have this sense of bullying us as filmmakers so that we can’t hold them accountable. You’ve got to make these films despite those fears.”
Trump’s development of the golf course continues to this day. Phinney said at the Q&A that Molly Forbes did try and file legal action against Trump’s project, but Trump sued to ensure she wouldn’t get legal aid. He won.