Having admired Nestor Almendros’ cinematography for both Eric Rohmer and Francois Truffaut, as well as his scintillating colour landscape work in Barbet Schroeder’s More, I borrowed a library copy of the illuminating film-by-film biography, A Man with a Camera, and it was there I learned of the documentary film, Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait.
Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait [Barbet Schroeder, 1974]
He’ll have it shown on Ugandan television every night, because it’s really him: the star of Africa. [Barbet Schroeder Newsweek interview, 1974]
Barbet Schroeder gained intimate access to the larger than life Idi Amin for this fascinating slice of post-colonial megalomania. The dictator was keen to raise his profile and Schroeder’s semi-journalistic brief means he rarely intervenes, allowing Amin’s irrepressible showman persona verbal carte blanche as we become witness to the music and colour of the African continent; the Ugandan army’s inept field manoeuvres; hilarious swimming race exploits; and Amin’s fantastic view of himself within the world order (referring to Nixon as if they were of equal standing and of Uganda’s international aid to Britain’s failing economy). Indeed, there is very little you can impose upon a man who has awarded himself the title: “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshall Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, King of Scotland, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in particular”. Nevertheless, Almendros’ often hand-held 16mm camera ensures transparency and the subject is rendered a fallible human being (as opposed to the cartoon clown of tabloid newspaper notoriety); while the dvd notes explain that the excised closing narration (not reinstated by Schroeder, unlike several other cuts enforced upon him when Amin held 150 French citizens hostage) viewed the dictator as “a deformed image of ourselves”. An observation made apparent by one of Amin’s impossibly ‘British’ military bands marching around their drought-faded parade ground.