General Idi Amin Dada

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Of the four films I have seen by Barbet Schroeder, General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait (1974) is certainly the most interesting and memorable.  The three other films by Schroeder were American productions made much later in his career and my prior statement was not meant to demean the merits of these films.  It is just that General Idi Amin Dada is the most politically and aesthetically complex of these films.  In all fairness, I should limit my comparison to genre, and discuss General Idi Amin Dada in comparison with Schroeder’s documentary portrait of Charles Bukowski, The Charles Bukowski Tapes (1987).

Both films were made with the direct cooperation and participation of their subjects, and it is evidenced by the manner of these two subjects that Schroeder has an uncanny ability to make his subjects at ease before the camera.  But it is in Schroeder’s approach as a documentarian that these two films contrast.  The very nature of the Bukowski Tapes is one of a long sit down interview(s) shot statically over the course of many days; which is further evidenced by how Schroeder cut the film as a tableaux of short confessions made to the camera by the author.  On the other side of the spectrum is General Idi Amin Dada.  Like the Bukowski film, Schroeder shot his subject for many days, often in a formal “sit-down” interview setting.  But it is Idi Amin who takes this further, arranging little forays for himself and the filmmaker to better illustrate his own unique view of his life.

That said, Amin’s portrait on film is more highly subjective than Schroeder’s portrait of Charles Bukowski simply because of the artificial scenarios created by Amin for the documentarian to photograph under the pretense of these events being fact.  So despite Schroeders efforts via editing and disclaimer title cards, the only version of Idi Amin the audience is allowed to see is the vision the dictator purposefully manufactured.  However, the plasticity of the events coordinated by Idi Amin are, in the editing of the picture, both exaggerated or underplayed so that the audience is made aware of Idi Amin’s illusions.