By Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Welcome to Leith (USA, 2015): In a foreboding corner of North Dakota you’ll find the town on Leith. The small, tight-knit community had no idea what was coming when a cantankerous, lonely man moved in. It wasn’t just a regular Joe trying to get away from it all, but militant white supremacist Craig Cobb, who soon enough started to buy land for his fellow neo-Nazis.
The excellent Welcome to Leith chronicles the legal battle that ensued between Leith inhabitants -who grew tired of Cobb’s antics very quickly- and the xenophobe himself, backed up by the NSM. Provocation was the name of the game for Cobb (who claimed his revolting hate speech was protected by the First Amendment), but miscalculated the endurance and commonality demonstrated by the townsfolk.
Many of the documentaries featured in HotDocs are bound to provoke a reaction from the audience, but Welcome to Leith was the first one that actually upset me. The tactics of Cobb and his fellow white supremacists are troubling, but since they have enough awareness to remain within the law, they get can get away with a lot (harassment, distress), more so in a place as isolated as Leith.
The film is a must watch. The storytelling is strong and the imagery will give you pause. Here is hoping for wide distribution. Four and a half stars.
The Bolivian Case (Bolivia/Australia, 2015): The story The Bolivian Case tries to cover is a fascinating one. Three Norwegian girls vacationing in the South American nation are caught trying to smuggle cocaine out of Bolivia. One escapes with the assistance of the Scandinavian consulate, the other two land in jail… until one of them becomes a celebrity of sorts in Norway and leaves the country with the assistance of a magazine while on bail (!). Furthermore, other members of the smuggling ring are on trial in the European country.
This is a story that oozes sex, race and media issues. Unfortunately, director Violeta Ayala chooses to address them directly instead of letting these wide and complex matters emerge organically from the narrative. Furthermore, The Bolivian Case has some structural issues in which the first half has all the strength and the second (focused on the dull judicial process in Norway) limps to the finish line. The material is there. The scenes inside the Cochabamba jail are fascinating: The place operates as a citadel, to the point the two incarcerated girls become pregnant during their stint in prison. Re-editing would benefit the film greatly. One and a half stars.