Article first published on Static Mass Emporium
Director Nick Broomfield doesn’t seem to want to solve any problems or find any answers in The Leader, His Driver And The Driver’s Wife, a documentary film about the apartheid regime in South Africa and Eugène Terre’Blanche, the founder and leader of the white supremacist political organisation AWB. He simply brings out the absurdity of racism by prompting the members of the AWB to react in comedic ways.
His role in the film is that of a bumbling buffoon who seems to have picked up the camera and the idea of filming as a hobby. Indeed, he’s treated as such by the leader and this is demonstrated by his inability to extract a viable interview from him throughout the film – a recurring theme in his later films, Kurt And Courtney (1998) and Tracking Down Maggie (1994).
Broomfield is a source of constant irritation to the leader as he pops up everywhere with his boom mike and an extra set of audio equipment on his person, a symbol of his intrusion on the political party’s gatherings. While most documentary filmmakers choose to remain behind the scenes so as to not affect the proceedings, Broomfield’s presence brings out facets of the member’s personalities that would otherwise be hidden beneath formal interviews. After many vain attempts to meet with the leader, when he’s finally granted an interview, he turns up five minutes late. This angers the leader who demands to know what could’ve been more important, to which Broomfield obtusely replies that he had stopped on the way for some tea.
As the title suggests, The Leader, His Driver And The Driver’s Wife is as much about the driver and his wife as it is about the leader, if not more so. JP is in fact a reservoir of knowledge regarding his employer’s moods and behaviour and can be considered the star of Broomfield’s film. While he may not be a prominent member of the AWB, he’s still a member and his proximity to the leader makes him an indispensable source. For most of the film, Broomfield learns of the party’s beliefs and activities through JP and his wife Anita. He also spends time with Johann, a town councillor and Anton, who owns a diamond mine. Their disdain for black people is apparent in these interviews as they complain about how the white man has to carry the burden of work while the black man is always happy and enjoying himself.
Prejudice is rampant and it would appear Broomfield’s method of tackling the issue isn’t to suppress it but to play up to it. The more we’re exposed to their views on racism, the more cartoonish they look. To substantiate this, Broomfield’s treatment of the leader is comical to say the least. During his speeches, Broomfield focuses on almost everything but his words and subtitles him only occasionally. Often the camera moves its attention to JP behind the podium, or to the leader’s vein popping face.
Terre’Blanche as the fearful leader and founder of the AWB is thus stripped of his power and threatening nature to the audience. If we can’t take the person seriously, how can we take his views seriously? This is what Broomfield manages to demonstrate with his film.
The Leader, His Driver And The Driver’s Wife is sprinkled with humour and its main cast is subtly mocked by the director, but besides its entertainment value, it offers insight into the different approaches that can be taken when making a documentary film. Although Broomfield may be in front of the camera, Broomfield the director is still very much hidden from the view of the audience. He remains detached from the film and his physical presence only serves to be a harmless character in the film, devoid of the director’s actual agendas.
Even though the film is in search of a film, the journey unearths much more than I could’ve anticipated. It takes what could have been a dark and heavy cinematic experience and turns it around to ultimately bring us to the same conclusion.