cph:dox 9-17/11 Terror’s Advocate

“This is the director’s point of view on Jacques Vergès which may differ from the opinions of people interviewed in the film”. These words are to be found on screen at the start of this fascinating film about a man, who during his whole life as an advocate has defended and had connections to criminals like Barbie, RAF people, Carlos – and who is up to take the case of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge comrade Khieu Sampran.

Well, what the director’s view really is stays a bit unclear to me but what stands out is the focus on a charismatic adventurer Jacques Vergès, who sits behind his enormous desk, constantly with a wonderful cuban cigar in his hand, a man who has enjoyed a life as a star advocate with a very simple anti-american political agenda. This is declared from the very beginning with a clip of Pol Pot who quotes a book by Vergès. In this he describes Pol Pot, the mass murderer, as a smiling and gentle person. Cut from Pol Pot to Vergès who puts forward his doubts about the numbers of people killed by the regime of Pol Pot and says that what the Americans did was much worse. His words accompany the images from the killing fields in Cambodia.

Yes, in this sequence the point of view is clear.

Barbet Schroeder tells his story through an excellent mix of archive, interviews with a lot of people who have worked with or been friends with Vergès, and with some of the terrorists now out of prison. Like Magdalena Kopp, Rote Armee Fraktion, the lover of Carlos and Vergès?

For me, however, the most interesting part of this tour-de-force of pre-9/11 world terrorist history is the long early start of the film where French politics in Algiers is the subject. Vergès was involved in the fight for freedom for the Algerians and married the female hero of the fight, Djamila Bouhired, who is portrayed in the film “The battle of Algiers” by Pontecorvo. Clips from this film, great archive material and interviews revive the French massacres and the answers from Algerian side.

The film is more than two hours long but you feel informed, sometimes angered and admittedly entertained by this elegant mysterious character who gives you no more information than he wants to.

Barbet Schroeder: Terror’s Advocate. France, 2007

More about the festival: http://www.cphdox.dk/d1/front.lasso

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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