Q&A: Anthony Baxter on Davids Fighting Goliaths in ‘A Dangerous Game’

Note: This interview originally ran during the 2014 Hamptons International Film Festival, where A Dangerous Game had its U.S. premiere. A Dangerous Game is now available on VOD nationwide

In A Dangerous Game, the follow-up to You’ve Been Trumped (HIFF 2011), filmmaker Anthony Baxter is still hot on Donald Trump’s tail as the billionaire sets out to build yet another luxury golf course along the idyllic Scottish seaside. As locals unite to halt construction, their counterparts in Croatia are engaged in a similar battle of public will as they face down developers (and politicians) of their own. A dogged, entertaining storyteller, Baxter weaves together compelling interviews and highlights these David-and-Goliath stories for a purpose: imploring us to take a stand against turning our natural resources into global vacation spots for the ultra-rich.


How do you describe A Dangerous Game in your own words?

Anthony Baxter: A Dangerous Game tells the story of power and money riding roughshod over the lives of ordinary people and our planet—and in the context of our film, golf is the smokescreen. I live in Montrose on the east coast of Scotland. It’s home to arguably the second oldest golf course in the world. Here, it’s a game for everyone. Montrose is just down the road from where Donald Trump announced, nearly a decade ago, he was to build a luxurious golf resort on some of the rarest sand dunes in Europe. The Scottish government upturned its own strict environmental laws to give Mr. Trump the green light.

As environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr. says in A Dangerous Game, “There are Donald Trumps everywhere—there are people like him in every country and in every community.” In the film, I find that what Kennedy says is true—and that some of the Earth’s most precious places are being turned into golf courses and playgrounds for the super rich. In Croatia, for example, a billionaire is bankrolling a golf course development for the UNESCO protected city of Dubrovnik—and the locals are saying, “Enough is enough.” Many of the plans are simply bizarre—a space age resort overlooking a medieval town; acres of grass turf flown thousands of miles from Augusta, Georgia to a Middle Eastern desert; and an epic explosion of golf courses in a country (China) where they are supposedly illegal.

In every case, the environmental damage is justified by trickle-down promises of jobs and money that a handful of the world’s wealthiest will bring. And I also met local people who believe these promises of economic benefits are absurd—and who aren’t taking it any more. As one local resident in Scotland puts it, “You just wonder where all this is going to end?”


What made you decide to tackle a sequel?

Anthony Baxter: When we made You’ve Been Trumped in 2011, we took it to film festivals across the world—the Hamptons International Film Festival being one of them. And whether it was in Birmingham, Alabama or Zagreb in Croatia, people kept saying to me, “That’s our story too.” Local residents feel a sense of powerlessness when faced with money and power. They also suffer from the same kind of broken democracy—where the politicians are failing to represent the very people who elected them. And as a documentarian, I felt there was a job to be done in allowing those voices or ordinary people to be heard—and to hold people in power to account—on camera.

You’re still hot on Donald Trump’s tail, and this time around, you actually interview him. What do you think made him come around?

Anthony Baxter: You’ve Been Trumped was broadcast in a peak time slot on BBC2 in 2012, and there is no doubt the audience in Britain was utterly shocked by what they saw on their screens. In Scotland, local residents had no idea of how the residents in the footprint of the Trump development were being treated: water supplies cut off to people like an 86-year-old woman, and huge banks of earth built next to their houses. This surge of public awareness led directly to the farmer Mr. Trump had previously dubbed ‘a pig’ for standing in the way of his development being voted Scotsman of the Year in a public ballot. Michael Forbes beat Olympics hero Andy Murray and legendary Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. After that awards ceremony, Donald Trump’s lawyer called me up and suggested a meeting. The interview then followed. Mr. Trump took to Twitter last week—branding me ‘a clown’ and threatening to release the entire unedited interview—which is absolutely fine by me. I’ve invited him to the Q&A in the Hamptons—but have yet to hear whether he will be attending.


Were you surprised by how many Davids there are out there fighting Goliaths who build playgrounds for the rich? Do they stand a chance?

Anthony Baxter: Yes. The number of emails we’ve received from people concerned about their communities is staggering. And it’s not always in areas that people might consider to be under threat. For example, in the Hamptons we tell the story of local concerns surrounding the luxury golf course at East Hampton, where Alec Baldwin took part in a campaign to stop a super exclusive private golf course from being built. The concern there surrounded chemicals put onto the golf course. Under that golf course is an aquifer that supplies 3 million people in Long Island with water—would the chemicals put onto the course end up in the water supply?

In Croatia, the Davids are rising up against the developers by holding a referendum against the golf resort. They face a corrupt democracy and a media only too willing to report the perceived benefits of the development. They face a tough fight, which is followed in the film.

So common bonds are holding these Davids together worldwide. On the way to the Hamptons I was invited to show the film in Northern Ireland, where local people are opposing a golf resort that they say threatens the Giant’s Causeway—another UNESCO World Heritage site. We have a list of more than two dozen such struggles around the world on our website.


What is the biggest takeaway you want audiences to get from your film?

Anthony Baxter: It’s obviously up to audiences to make up their own minds about what they see in the film. But I suppose if it makes people think about how sustainable these developments are, then that’s important. The problem is that once a development is built, there’s no turning back the clock. In Scotland, a rare site of Special Scientific Interest has been lost forever to a luxury golf development that has delivered just a fraction of the jobs originally promised.

Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Anthony Baxter: Make the film you want to make—and don’t let TV executives and others sway you from your path. Despite the difficulties involved, I would still suggest crowd funding is the best way to raise early funding and awareness for your project and to get the film in motion. It will also help you to begin building the audience.

What are you most looking forward to at the 2014 Hamptons International Film Festival?

Anthony Baxter: Interacting with the audiences who take the time to come and see our film and meeting fellow filmmakers. People who manage to make documentary or fiction films with very little or no money have to stick together. And it’s at events such as the Hamptons where we’re able to draw inspiration or share stories about the difficulties faced so far as we all try to get our films out to a wider audience.

A Dangerous Game is now available on VOD nationwide. Follow A Dangerous Game on Facebook and Twitter.

Anthony-BaxterAnthony Baxter is an award-winning director based in Montrose, Scotland. Previously to A Dangerous Game he directed You’ve Been Trumped, which was named best documentary of 2012 by Mark Kermode, the BBC’s chief film critic, and which won 10 other awards around the world, including the The Victor Rabinowitz & Joanne Grant Award for Social Justice at the Hamptons International Film Festival. A former BBC journalist, Baxter has also produced and directed for various British broadcasters.