By Daniel Barnes
*Opens today at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley and the Rialto Cinemas Sebastopol in Sebastopol.
Nope, not the Zac Efron-goes-EDM drama. Instead, Darwin’s Nightmare director Hubert Sauper writes, directs and edits this rambling, sneakily compelling documentary about modern-day colonialism in Sudan. This adventurous Frenchman also pilots an ultralight plane of his design, catching some breathtaking aerial shots of the oil fields. Sauper appears to serve as a one-person movie crew here, capturing the cultural and environmental decimation with a powerful immediacy.
We Come as Friends coalesces slowly, weighed down by some strained attempts at narrative poetry. It could have easily lost ten to fifteen minutes of Sudanese natives goofing on Sauper’s camera, but the film eventually hits its stride. Sauper comes to Sudan on the eve of a referendum to split oil- and mineral-rich South Sudan from the genocidal government of the north, arriving at the intersection of corporate, religious and nationalist interests.
After achieving independence, South Sudan becomes a Christian nation. Naturally, a new set of starry-eyed missionaries show up with some very 17th-century views on African culture. Meanwhile, Chinese and American corporate P.R. teams compete for the most unctuous soundbite.
The film is not above scoring easy points, like the sly cutaway to an African woman emptying garbage while U.N. peacekeepers party in the next room. However, it still works as an on-the-ground diary of democratic devastation in action.