What would you do if an evil unspeakable evil moved in next door? This is the awfulness which confronted residents of Leith, North Dakota (population, 24 – including the children) when a Neo-Nazi moved into town. Welcome to Leith is reviewed after the jump.
In May 2012 local Leith residents noticed that a man had moved into town. The residents said hello and they exchanged the usual pleasantries that one does with a new neighbour. Aside from buying several plots of land around the town, he largely kept to himself. Unfortunately for the residents of Leith, their new neighbour turned out to be [in his own worlds] “one of the most famous racists in the world”, Craig Cobb, and he wasn’t seeking an early retirement in the remote town. On the contrary, he wanted to start something big. Cobb had decided that Leith was the perfect place to set up a white supremacist community, and he had advertised this plan on sites that like-minded racists visited.
When self-professed Skinhead Kynan Dutton and his family moved in, the town’s anxiety levels went up. They took measures to protect themselves such as bearing arms and securing security cameras. In response to the resident’s less than welcoming attitudes, Cobb attacked them by posting their personal information online and taunted them with this (by shoving a laptop in their face) whenever he perceived that they were somehow blocking his ambitious plan. The sheriff and local law enforcement were unable to force the white supremacists to leave, and the residents became increasingly afraid and frustrated.
The Kickstarter-funded (to the tune of US$64k) Welcome to Leith came about after the filmmakers (Michael Beach Nichols & Christopher K. Walker) read a NY Times article about Cobb’s plans for building a white supremacist community. They traveled to the town to chronicle the story, which took on a whole new dimension once they started filming (the details of which, I will not spoil for you). While we obviously side with the residents, Welcome to Leith is probably the most-balanced look at this sort of issue you’re likely to ever find. Featuring interviews and amateur footage from both the residents and the Cobb and the Dutton Family, we are given equal time with both sides of the story. Amazingly, there is even footage from Dutton’s partner’s phone which shows them harassing the residents. I can only surmise that Cobb and the Dutton Family’s blind arrogance and belief in their “cause” is the reason they were so willing to participate.
The remote location of the town and the sparseness of the surrounding landscape has been filmed to great effect by the filmmakers. There is no doubt that the area is beautiful, but the isolation adds an extra layer of unease. Measured use of a somewhat grungy original score by T. Griffin (The Overnighters, E-Team) adds to the overall feeling of discomfort and concern that you experience throughout the film.
Welcome to Leith is a thought-provoking and thrilling documentary; and a highlight of Sydney Film Festival’s rich documentary programme.
By Sam McCosh
Directors: Christopher K. Walker, Michael Beach Nichols
Producers: Christopher K. Walker, Jenner Furst, Joey Carey, Joshua Woltermann, Michael Beach Nichols
Runtime: 86 minutes