(London Film Festival, October 4th, 2019, Curzon Soho, 99 Shaftesbury Ave, Soho, London W1D 5DY, United Kingdom, 10:00 am)
"Cold Case Hammarskjöld"
The documentary tries to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjöld. As the investigation closes in, the film discovers a crime far worse than killing 'The Secretary-General Of The United Nations'.
In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, killing Hammarskjöld and most of the crew. With the case still unsolved 50-plus years later, the film leads us down an investigative rabbit hole to unearth the truth. Scores of false starts, dead ends, and elusive interviews later, the film begins to sniff out something more monumental than anything we initially imagined. In a signature agitprop style, the documentary challenges the very nature of truth by performing the role of truth seeker. As the film uncovers a critical secret that could send shockwaves around the world, we realize that sometimes absurdity and irony are the emboldening ingredients needed to confront what’s truly sinister.
When the film opens it's around midnight on September 18th, 1961, a small plane flying over a remote part of 'Central Africa'. Suddenly the lights at a nearby airfield go out and we hear the sound of another plane. Then something sounding like gunfire breaks out and Hammarskjöld's plane crashes, killing all 16 people on board, including 'The 'U.N. Secretary-General' who's en route to negotiations for a cease-fire in the ongoing 'Congo Crisis'. The accident is officially blamed on pilot error, however rumors have persisted for decades that it's a well-planned assassination. The wreckage is buried a few days after the crash. Convinces that it's nearby, the jaunty pair outfit themselves with shovels, a metal detector and pith helmets and set off to find it. It's supposedly a remnant of Hammarskjöld's plane, found at the crash site. It's apparently unremarkable, but there's one thing that seemed unusual; a series of perfectly round, irregularly spaced holes. Could they be bullet holes? But just as the search seems promising, local authorities abruptly withdraw permission to dig. But who wants Hammarskjöld dead, and why? What possibly go wrong there? What's the meaning of the mysterious playing card found intact on Hammarskjöld's partially scorched body? Why's an unassuming young marine biologist murdered? What did witnesses see in the sky that night? Could it all be an elaborate hoax perpetrated by an eccentric, highly skilled propagandist?
The story begins to gain momentum with the discovery of a secretive figure named Keith Maxwell, who styled himself 'Commodore Of SAIMR'. Dressing exclusively in crisp naval whites or, for special occasions, the brass-buttoned uniform, cutlass and three-corner hat of an '18th-Century' admiral, Maxwell sometimes claimed to be a doctor and ran medical clinics throughout poor black areas in African offering low-cost health care and vaccinations. Could he be the key to unlocking all of 'SAIMR's Secrets'? Now deceased, Maxwell left behind a half-finished, somewhat fictionalized memoir called 'The Story Of My Life' that seemed too improbable to be true. 'SAIMR' is the successor to a 184-year-old organization started by British mariners. Maxwell was a stocky middle-aged man with tousled hair, tinted aviator glasses and a blank expression. A retired doctor whom Maxwell tried unsuccessfully to recruit remembers him as a flamboyant but harmless member of a group dedicated to finding sunken treasure. Maxwell was some kind of demonic clown, a kook. He had the resources to use violence and to supply weapons. He was financed and directed by 'MI6, British Intelligence'.
The slow, steady crescendo comes to an abrupt climax when a man named Alexander Jones provides by far the film's most compelling testimony. Jones not only admits to being an 'Ex-SAIMR' operative, he's eager to share what he knows. Jones verifies the names of 'SAIMR' members and allows himself to be taped making incendiary allegations, describing the organization's mission as overthrowing governments and taking over countries. Murder and mayhem are a means to eradicate black Africans and maintain white rule, he claims. The group is so secretive that the 5,000 or more members are unlikely to even know of each other. Jones describes Maxwell as a very dangerous man, someone exquisitely manipulative, charismatic and dedicated to eliminating black Africans through non-militaristic means. In the late 1990s, he claims, Maxwell's clinics are a cover for his most sinister plan, infecting black Africans with 'HIV' using contaminated vaccines. Black people have got no rights, they need medical treatment. There's a white philanthropist coming in and saying, 'you know, I'll open up these clinics and I'll treat you'. The more pieces of the puzzle the film fits together, the more clear it becomes just how many more are missing.
A Swedish aristocrat and lifetime public servant, Hammarskjöld was elected as 'The U.N.'s' second 'Secretary-General' in 1953. A seasoned bureaucrat tasked with overhauling the burgeoning organization's administrative capacities, he was a compromise candidate between 'Cold War' foes. His aggressive anti-colonial stance took the world by surprise as he attempted to help black Africans reclaim their countries from their foreign corporate masters. The quiet technocrat had become a flaming idealist and an inconvenience to those in power. Chief on his to-do list was 'Congo", then beginning to emerge from decades of brutal subjugation begun by 'The Belgian King Leopold II.' In 'The Late 19th Century', 'Leopold' ruthlessly siphoned off untold millions of dollars' worth of ivory, rubber and precious minerals for his own enrichment, while virtually enslaving the native population. 'The 20th Century' brought corporations like 'Union Minière', which continued to loot the country's wealth and exploit black Africans. In 1961, Hammarskjöld was attempting to bring a series of civil wars in 'Congo' to an end. As emerging African nations became another 'Cold War' proxy battleground between 'The U.S'. and it's allies on one side, and 'The Soviet Union' on the other, Hammarskjöld's 'U.N.' was becoming increasingly troublesome to both factions. If he succeeded in his goals, the map of 'Africa' would change and rule would be restored to black Africans, allowing them to define their own futures. Instead, the battle for control would rage on for decades more, and much of the area's wealth would continue to slip away.
On the night of September 18th, 1961, 'UN Secretary-General' Dag Hammarskjöld's plane crashes under suspicious circumstances in 'The Congolese' province of 'Katanga'. Swedish Hammarskjöld was in favor of 'The Independence Of Congo' which had not made him popular with 'The Western' superpowers on 'The African Continent'. The mysterious crash was never fully explained. The tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld remains one of the greatest mysteries of 'The 20th Century'. Over 50 years later the film tries to discover the truth about this cold case once and for all. The film trecks across 'The African Brousse' in search of answers. To try and solve a case that has baffled people for decades. What begins as the unraveling of murder plot slowly turns into a true thriller that surprises you at every turn. Even today, there are many questions and conspiracy theories. Why did the plane carrying the world's highest ranking diplomat crash in Africa? Was it shot down? And if so, by whom? Was Hammarskjöld a victim of 'The Cold War' between 'The US' and 'The Soviet Union'? Was he a thorn in the side of the former colonial powers due to his support for the newly independent African states? Could Hammarskjöld have been murdered by powerful political opponents? And who left the ace of spades death card on his body? From 'Zambia' and 'South Africa' to 'The U.K'., 'The U.S'., 'Russia', 'Spain' and beyond, the film conducts an estimated 50 interviews with witnesses both central and peripheral to the tale, leading to a constantly widening maze. The film ends up in a web of deception, betrayal and more questions.
A journalist should not wish for his journalism to be flawed, but due to the horror of what he discovers. We've secretly been hoping that it all would turn out to be a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, that's not the case. The search, which long led nowhere, suddenly kuncovers crimes that are much more recent and much more terrifying. With the twists and turns of an elegantly plotted murder mystery and the intrigue of an international espionage thriller, "Cold Case Hammarskjöld" winds it's way through three continents and almost seven years of investigative reporting. Tracking down Belgian mercenaries, telling tales of evil men who dress in white, the ace of spades found at crime scenes, rumors about secret societies. It's a unique and effective way of visualizing colonialism and racial relations in Africa. The villain only wore white, but also, in a strange way, white is the color of power in this story, so it accentuates the interracial relationship in a powerful cinematic effect. Having difficulties at first and having leads go cold is good for the narrative. If everything is perfectly clear from the beginning, that's not interesting. And that's the way it played out in reality. It's a weird outfit, like a cross between 'Hezbollah' and 'Scientology'. Perhaps there's a successor out there. Some of what we discovered we know is very real. But some of it's very difficult to prove.