You’ve Been Trumped documents the David and Goliath battle between the dignified and humble residents of a tiny Scottish hamlet and Donald Trump, who is arguably the world’s least dignified and humble property developer.
The battle lines are drawn when The Donald decides to build what he modestly claims will be the world’s best golf course on the Menie Estate in Scotland, a site that – until Trump’s bulldozers moved in – was home to some of the world’s best sand dunes. Indeed, the Menie sand sheet was called the “jewel in the crown” of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in the UK by Scottish Natural Heritage, an advisory body set up by the government to oversee such conservation designations.
However, seduced by Trump’s false promises of investment and jobs, the Scottish Government disregarded the environmental advice of its own advisory body, made a mockery of the hard to come by SSSI designation, overruled the local authority – which had denied planning permission – and trampled on the wishes of local residents in order to give Trump the green light to build his exclusive playground on land of such extraordinary natural beauty if was immortalized in the 1983 film Local Hero.
Though documenting a geographically specific dispute, the tale You’ve Been Trumped tells is in many ways archetypical of our times. The film vividly shows what happens when the 1% are allowed to run rampant in the wilderness at the expense of both the environment and the 99%, while the politicians and police “protect and serve” their megabucks masters and the media is too distracted by celebrity to report the truth.
I caught up with You’ve Been Trumped’s director Anthony Baxter on the morning of the film’s opening in The Donald’s hometown…
Nicole Powers: It’s a big day for you isn’t it? Being the first day of You’ve Been Trumped’s theatrical run in New York City, virtually in the shadow of the Trump Tower.
Anthony Baxter: Exactly. It is exciting. It’s taken a lot of effort obviously to get here and it just feels like the right thing to be doing – taking You’ve Been Trumped to Trump essentially.
NP: You say it’s been a long journey, how did it start? What’s your background?
AB: Well, I’m a journalist filmmaker, but this is the first feature film I’ve made. I’ve worked as a journalist for the BBC and ITN and various other organizations since 1989. Then, when I moved to Scotland ten years ago, I moved to a town called Montrose, which is just down the road from where Donald Trump announced he was going to be building a golf course. As a journalist filmmaker living locally, I was very aware of the story, and was struck very much by the fact that the local newspaper in Aberdeen just seemed to completely ignore any environmental issues raised by the development. They just said that this was a great thing for the area. They whipped up a media frenzy, essentially, about anybody who objected to the development.
For example, the local authority first of all blocked the Trump development, and then the local newspaper, the Evening Express, ran a headline “Traitors” with a picture of the councillors who had objected to the development. Those people who were objecting were doing so on very heartfelt and strong environmental grounds. They just felt it was the wrong thing. Also, I felt that the local residents were just not being given a voice at all. The people living on the footprint of the development were effectively being threatened with eviction through the British eminent domain, which was extraordinary.
When the Scottish government gave Mr. Trump the green light to go ahead, which it did after calling in the application saying it was in the national interest because of all these ludicrous claims that jobs were going to be created, I just felt it was a really important story to document. So I went to speak to the local residents and found them to be an extraordinary group of people, very dignified, very caring for the land on which they lived. These dunes are scientifically very, very important. They were supposed to be protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, yet the government decided to overthrow those concerns in favor of Mr. Trump’s development.
NP: Right. Trump managed to bulldoze not only through the local council’s rejection of planning permission, but also a special site designation.
AB: Yeah, exactly – and that’s unprecedented. It’s an incredibly worrying precedent because these sites are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest for very good reason. It takes a lot for a site to be designated in that way. It’s done so in order to protect it from development. For example, those dunes are key to understanding the interaction between the North Sea and the coast there. They’re used by scientists to study global warming. They’re also an incredibly important wilderness. That stretch of sand dunes is one of the last coastal wildernesses of its type in Europe.
If you or I wanted to build a shack on that land, we wouldn’t be allowed to do so. One of the local residents tried to alter her chimney. She’d applied for planning permission several times and had it refused. Yet Mr. Trump comes along and says that he wants to build two championship golf courses, a skyscraper hotel, a 450 bed hostel for workers, 1500 houses, and timeshare apartments, and was given the green light to do so. All the environmental groups were bitterly opposed. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said that Scotland’s green policy had been sold down the river. There was not one credible environmental group who supported the development. All of the groups opposed it for very good reason.
NP: The media seemed to be so busy fawning over Trump’s celebrity that they completely ignored the valid objections to this development. Indeed, you were forced to self-fund this movie.
AB: Yeah. When I did a pitch for the film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival maybe three years ago now, I made a trailer and I stood in front of a group of commissioning editors from the BBC, from independent television, from the arts agencies in Scotland, from international broadcasters, and I explained why I thought this story was very, very important to tell. All of them commended me on the pitch but refused to fund the film in any shape or form. One American executive said, “I hope you’ve got a good lawyer.” It seemed to me as if the media was almost afraid of taking on a tycoon such as Donald Trump because of the fear of litigation.
I just felt very, very strongly that we shouldn’t allow those kinds of fears get in the way of telling this important story. Particularly, as you point out, because the local newspapers had effectively blacked out any opposition to this development. It’s hard to explain sometimes to people outside of the area just what a stranglehold those newspapers have on the agenda in that area. The Press And Journal and the Evening Express newspapers very much set the editorial agenda. They had refused to reflect any of the opposition apart from the spat between Michael Forbes, the farmer [who’d stalwartly refused to give up his property in exchange for an offer of cash, a job, and a lifetime golf club membership – really!], and Donald Trump. Michael was painted as this guy standing in the way of development, and nobody ever bothered to go speak to any of the other local residents who were affected, and I just felt that it was extraordinary.
For example, I went to speak to Susan Munro, one of the local residents whose house now looks over a concrete car park where the dunes used to lie. Not one reporter from the local newspaper had ever bothered to go and speak to her over the several years that this has been running on as a local planning dispute. I just felt it was really, really important for journalism that we try to tell that story as best we can. And when we were faced with no funding, obviously, I had to decide whether or not to continue. So we mortgaged the house and then we went on the internet through IndieGoGo, a crowd funding website, to raise the rest of the money in order to finish the film.
NP: It doesn’t surprise me that money talks in today’s climate, but it was really shocking way Trump treated the locals. The names he called them very publicly and the contempt with which he treated their property rights was appalling. These were ancient property lines that had been set in stone that he just decided, because he was Donald Trump, he could change at will. You even have footage of him literally digging up garden fences and moving them to where he felt they should be.
AB: Exactly. But there’s one rule for tycoons with money and one rule for everybody else. The fact is, if you move and you’ve got a new neighbor, you would try and get on with your neighbors as best you can. But Donald Trump’s response to neighbors who didn’t want to sell him their properties was to brand their homes pigsties and them as pigs for living in these houses which have gone back generations.
AB: Yeah, it represents in a way a cultural chasm between, not Americans, but Donald Trump. I don’t think the people on the Menie Estate in these properties think that Mr. Trump is a typical American at all. They’ve been very moved by the comments that have comes from Americans all over this country who have written to them and supported them. But what he does represent very much is the ultimate one percenter. He thinks he can manipulate the media, manipulate the government, manipulate even the police…
[The locals] would call the police to complain about the excessive security measures being taken when they want access to their homes for example. One resident, Susan Munro, was told to spread eagle on the bonnet of her car by Mr. Trump’s security workers. They felt very much that there was one rule for Mr. Trump, who would come in with fleets of Range Rovers with blacked out windows, and there were some startling stories that emerged.
People used to be able to walk freely on those dunes. One horse rider was stunned to find vehicles “almost chasing after her,” was how she was reported it, startling the horse. I mean, this is a wilderness, it’s supposed to be a place in Scotland where you can roam freely. You have a right to roam in Scotland, and yet this was being turned into a gated community around the residents under their noses. Essentially, they were feeling incredibly powerless. They would call the local authorities and say, “Look there’s a big bank of earth being built next to my house that’s not on the plans – what are going to do about it?” And nobody did anything about it…
NP: One of the things that you show very vividly is how the police protected and served the 1% and not the 99%. There’s a scene in the movie where you’re talking to camera on someone’s private property, on a driveway, not causing trouble to anyone, and the police actually trespass onto that property to arrest you. You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re in a place you’ve been invited to.
AB: Exactly. That’s right. We’re on the property of Susan Munro, one of the local residents. We’ve just done an interview with one of Mr. Trump’s workers and we’re on private property. Then the police come on to Susan’s land and start wrestling the camera from me, without explaining to us what was going on at all, putting me up against the car and handcuffing me in a very brutal way.
This was essentially two journalists following a story and trying to hold power to account, which is the whole point of journalism as the National Union of Journalists recognized when it complained to the Chief Constable about the incident, saying that it was unprecedented, that it raised very serious questions about press freedoms in the UK, and that the police were completely out of order. The Chief Constable refused to bring any kind of independent inquiry into this incident at all. The Herald Newspaper did an investigation into the relationship between Donald Trump and the local police, which raised many alarm bells, and had to use Freedom of Information [requests] to get details of that relationship…
People are completely fed up with this whole kind of situation, being up against this stranglehold on the people who are supposedly representing them – in this case the First Minister of Scotland. These people are in his constituency. Alex Salmond, who is the local MSP [Member of the Scottish Parliament] for these people, he has not once bothered to go and visit them, and refuses to see the film. He is as accountable in this whole sorry saga as Donald Trump and the local police are.
NP: That’s the thing, in the film you see crimes against the environment, you see the blatant theft of property and land, you see Mr. Trump slander of the locals, we see you being improperly arrested – yet none of you really have any recourse. Donald Trump has unlimited funds to fight in court; it’s almost pointless even trying to go up against him.
AB: Yeah, for example, Molly Forbes, the elderly lady who felt so passionately about this area and that the decision to build houses and hotels on this land was wrong…She did what she thought was the right thing to do, which was to take out legal action through the Court of Session in Edinburgh [Scotland’s supreme civil court]. She lost that case and then the Trump Organization announced it was going to sue her for $50,000 in legal costs. Now that’s a drop in the ocean for the Trump Organization, but for a lady who is just trying to do the right thing and hoping that she can raise awareness in the public on this thing which was getting no press at all, it’s utterly appalling…
NP: The other issue too is that in order to get planning permission to make this golf course happen, the quid pro quo was supposed to be jobs and investment. But it appears that Trump lied about the investment, lied about the number of jobs, and the labor that he has brought in has been by and large from outside the community.
AB: Yeah, the jobs that were promised were 6,000 jobs, and this was an utterly ludicrous projection. It was based on people running a luxury hotel, which in most communities in Scotland are run by people from overseas because the local people cannot afford to take those jobs. The terrible pay offered is often bang on the minimum wage, and they are not the kind of jobs that people aspire to. Now that’s even if there were jobs there, but those jobs have not materialized at all. There’s a temporary clubhouse, there’s one golf course, so there’s a few people serving drinks to wealthy golfers, a few people caddying bags around and mowing the grass, but a few dozen people is not 6,000. That projection was utterly ludicrous and was found out to be by the London School of Economics who poured over the figures that we gave them that had been presented to all those at the Scottish Government inquiry by the Trump Organization. It took the London School of Economics no time at all to say these numbers don’t add up.
Essentially, this is what’s happening all over the world. People are blinded by the ludicrous claims and projections of jobs and economic prosperity for an area in order to rip it up and start building – and, on the way, inflate the prices of the land because the planning permission is given to the land and not the person. Donald Trump could – and the local residents believe he will – sell up all the property that he has there with the planning permission for 1,500 houses, and, as the London School of Economics says, benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars probably just for the planning permission for the land. There are people lining their pockets and making big cash out of these green field sites that are supposed to be protected, while the local people who recognize the importance of these sites, and recognize the value for generations to come, are left powerless on the sidelines to do anything about it.
NP: And the value of their properties is vastly reduced because they’ve got bloody great car parks and mountains of dirt outside their windows.
AB: That’s absolutely right. Susan Munro’s property when I first visited was right by the dunes. She had lived there with her family peacefully for years. There used to be another lady who had an old railway carriage which she lived in…The first thing that happened when Trump bought the land was that was pulled up onto the back of a truck and taken away. Susan had watched this from her back garden aghast. Then she finds a car park being rolled out overnight almost. She’s at the bottom of her garden, tarmac is being piled down on to the dunes over concrete, and she is left there, utterly powerless, calling the local authority saying, “What’s happening? This isn’t supposed to come so close to my property is it?” And they’re saying, “Oh well, I’m sure everything’s happening according to the plans.” As you say, her house is being deeply devalued by the fact that you can’t walk out of her garden onto the dunes. She’s now got a massive fence being put up in front of her house.
Mr. Trump’s executive, Michael Cohen, visited Susan Munro’s property recently. When she voiced to him the deep concerns she had about the security forces roaming around the property, Mr. Cohen’s response to Susan was, “Well, don’t worry, you’ll soon have a security pass to access your property.” That is not what she lives there for and why she decided to move to the dunes. For somebody with the power and money and resources of Donald Trump to take that sort of stance with his neighbors is absolutely appalling, and deeply worrying I think for audiences who see the film. They are startled and shocked by that…
NP: The genius of the film is that you don’t really need to editorialize Trump. He’s hoisted on his own petard. The stuff that he says is utterly, utterly appalling on every level. You just have to roll the cameras and present the footage.
AB: One thing that I’ve always said is I went to start documenting what was happening…What you see on the screen is what came into the camera lens over the course of 18 months to two years. That is the fact. Now, people may not like what Mr. Trump says, and that’s for them to make up their own mind, but the fact of the matter is that what you see on the screen is what came into the camera lens. It is cut together as a film has to be, because you can’t have 300 hours of footage on the screen, and what you see is Donald Trump having probably the most screen time in the whole film. It represents, I think, a cultural chasm between the way that Mr. Trump may be used to speaking to people in New York City and the way the local people in a rural Scottish wilderness feel is the right way to behave and the right way to interact with their neighbors. They were brought up to say “please” and “thank you,” and to do their best to get on with people who live next door. Whereas Mr. Trump’s answer to becoming a new neighbor was to brand their homes “pigsties” and “slums.”
NP: And I think he honestly can’t comprehend why someone wouldn’t be thrilled to live in a gated community and have a security pass to get to their own property.
AB: The thing about him is that he has not in any way recognized the wrongs that he’s responsible for…People essentially are saying “where are the lawyers in all of this?” The local people are incredibly dignified, they’re incredibly patient – this has been going on for years. They are people who when the news crews come around and ask them for sound bites, they have great eloquence, dignity, and a deep respect for their environment, and their choice of words is so restrained.
We did two screenings at the Scottish Parliament itself to which we invited the First Minister and he refused to come. The local residents, who came there…they win hearts and minds wherever they go…These people were only branded the other day by the Trump Organization in a statement released to the Daily News here in New York, as “a national embarrassment for Scotland.” Well I say, come and see the film and make up your own mind about it.
NP: I’m not left in any doubt who is the national embarrassment here – and it’s not anyone from Scotland.
AB: The thing is, the people there, they didn’t ask for this, to have the media spotlight thrown on to their homes…They didn’t ask for the media to come knocking on their doors. They just ask to live peacefully on the dunes. They are people who have a great deal of respect for the environment and for each other, and have been brought together by this struggle. In a way, one thing that’s come out of this is that the community has really come together, as you see in the films when hundreds of people march through the dunes to one of the resident’s homes, Michael Forbes’, to support him.
NP: This film is helping shine a spotlight on an international level on something that otherwise would be a very local issue. What are your plans for it in America?
AB: We felt that it was very, very important to take You’ve Been Trumped to Trump, to take it to New York City, so that people can see for themselves what has been happening in Scotland, and bring those events here to his own backyard essentially. Because the story is not a local story, it’s an international story. I started the film before the Occupy movement started, but people have said to me it is a film for the Occupy generation because it captures the deep frustrations that people are feeling everywhere…
I think people need to know and see stories around the world which show communities in those situations feeling utterly powerless. And although the film is not meant to, and could not ever on it’s own be something which changes things, it educates and informs people to make decisions and to say, look, we need to change the way that we live…
So we’ve been screening it across Scotland. We’ve had great difficulties in getting the film out in the UK. The British Film Institute in London refused to support the release of the film. It has millions of pounds of lottery funded money to try and bring films to cinema audiences, and the only money that exchanged hands between us and the BFI was us paying to show the film to a few executives at its West End headquarters.
NP: And this is a film that’s gone on to win 10 awards so far.
AB: That’s right, exactly. It’s just been nominated for a Grierson Award, which is the British documentary Oscars essentially. We’ve found everywhere we have turned closed doors from organizations who are supposed to support us. So what we have done is we’ve hit the internet four times and raised money from hundreds of people around the world who also agree that this is an important film that needs to be seen. We put it in the cinemas of Scotland, where the reaction has been shock, and also in as many cinemas as we can around London and in England – although not nearly as many as we would’ve liked.
We want to get it into cinemas because we feel that audiences seeing it collectively feel that it’s a powerful film. It needs to be seen in that kind of an environment at this stage I think. Also, as we know from the last few days here in New York, if you release a film on a cinema screen it gets a lot more attention in the media than it does if you just pop it up on YouTube…Bill Moyers said very generously in his PBS interview that many, many people should see it because of its importance.
What we have at the moment is a media obsessed with celebrity who will often say to journalists and filmmakers, we’d like a film on Donald Trump if you’ve got access. If you can fly around the world on his 757, then that’s fine, we’ll commission you to make a film. But this film is more important than that because it’s giving the ordinary people and our planet a voice, which is so stifled in this media environment we’re in. Despite the huge number of channels, we can’t even get a story out about ordinary people being bulldozed in their lives and on their properties. It just seems utterly lopsided and completely wrong to us. That’s why I was prepared to re-mortgage the house and to take these steps, because I just think if nobody else is prepared to support us, then we have to go out and do what we think is right.
NP: My hope too is that in future when local authorities are considering planning permission requests for similar projects that government officials – and the press – will be a bit more cynical about the numbers that they’re being bamboozled with. One of the myths that you dispel is this idea that it would take a billion dollars of investment to build a golf course. Isn’t it $6 million that’s actually been spent on essentially a large grass lawn with a few holes in it?
AB: Exactly. What we have here is a very, very worrying situation where figures are bandied around by the Trump Organization, which are then printed as fact. This was originally a £1billion development. Then overnight it dropped to £750 million one day, and all the press reported that as if nothing had happened. Then, suddenly, we had it reported in the news that Donald Trump had opened this golf course and that it’s a $100 million development, and one golf course has cost that amount of money – and it is wrong. We know that the figures lodged with Company’s House show that, according to a leading land rights expert in Scotland who has done some serious investigation into this, the amount that has been spent is to the tune of around £6 million – that’s around $10 million.
NP: And that was out of £1 billion promised.
AB: Yeah, exactly…In the interviews in the film Mr. Trump says to me that we’re about to start the Marram grass planting project. He said that’s a very big job, hundreds of people are going to be planting the grass. Well, thanks to a screening at the Scottish Parliament, there was a Sunday Herald journalist there, an environment editor, who then did some research and under Freedom of Information got hold figures which showed that 12 unskilled laborers had planted the Marram grass. Mr. Trump is used to bandying these ludicrous figures around which are then printed as fact. Like his claim that 93% of people in Scotland were behind the development. We know, because the BBC did an investigation into that number, that the poll that he referred to was never actually done. And yet that figure was bandied around by the local newspapers constantly as being proof that this development was supported.
NP: I very much hope that your documentary will help stop things like this from happening in the future, but it really saddens me that as a result of Trump’s efforts to build the “world’s best golf course” we’ve actually lost some of the world’s best sand dunes.
AB: That is a tragedy, we can’t turn back the clock. Once these things are done, they’re done. Even though the locals feel and hope one day that nature will take its quiet vengeance and reclaim what is its, the fact is that we have lost this wilderness. It has been destroyed and we can’t turn back the clock. When you move biblical amounts of sand around a site with fleets of bulldozers, it’s very difficult to allow nature to take its course…
The only hope I have is that people will look at the film and think, how many times can we allow the planet to afford these kinds of decisions?…And I think the communities are so tired of this stuff. The ordinary people who are out there in their masses are sick and tired of it, and they want to see a change. The tycoons and the rich and powerful, who are used to getting their way, and having this huge amount of influence with their money and power, should listen to what the masses are saying – listen to the voices of those ordinary people who just have to be heard. I think that’s the whole point of what we’ve been trying to do.
You’ve Been Trumped opens at Laemmle’s Town Centre 5 in Encino on Friday, August 17 and can be seen at the Art Theatre of Long Beach on Sunday, August 19 and 16. For more information visit: youvebeentrumped.com