This cracking new documentary from Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K Walker is a both unsettling and impressively evenhanded look at what happens when one of the most prominent white supremacists in America moves in next door.
The Leith in question is not in Scotland, but North Dakota – a small town in rural America with a population of only 24 people. The story begins when the population increases by one – a seemingly lonely old man, but one who is not all that he seems.
The documentary gently eases us into the small town life before revealing his identity, but in doing so creates a deliberate atmosphere of unease. This is a rural town in an area with a once transient population brought on by the oil boom in years gone by. We are given the very real sense of something waiting under the skin, lurking, seeking the right moment to not just come out, but to erupt. It’s a trope more usually capitalised upon by thrillers, the sort of town that Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character might stumble into only to discover a far reaching conspiracy spreading beneath the soil. One participant describes the area as being like a “B-roll to the Walking Dead.”
Something is just waiting to happen.
The new neighbour, we discover, is Craig Cobb – a leading light in the far right hate groups of the United States. He is a notoriously well known man and prominent figure amongst Neo-Nazis and white supremacists alike. At one point he screams at one of his neighbours, on camera “I’m one of the most famous racists in the world, you son of a bitch!” He has moved to Leith quietly intending to buy property to donate to others of his political persuasion, to eventually take control of the local town government and create a legal haven for white supremacists.
The film tells the story of what happens next, as tensions soar and threats of violence increase.
What makes this documentary so compelling is that the filmmakers have received great access from both sides of the argument. They are clearly against Cobb’s attitudes, but allow him to speak on camera, as well both his disconcertingly open racist companions, and the very angry townspeople. It is a revealingly successful, and eye-opening tactic. While we are encouraged to abhor Cobb and his views, the film also highlights the danger of rights being violated, as well as the manipulation of the democratic law making process. It asks how far is it okay to go without crossing a line of hypocrisy.
Fans of the recent Netflix hit Making a Murderer will be right at home with its examination of the American legal process and how it affects an entire community.
A recommended watch.
Welcome To Leith is on release in UK cinemas from Friday 12th November.