Harrowing film explores what happens when an avowed neo-Nazi moves to a small North Dakota town
Imagine you're living a quiet life in pleasant small town and one day you wake up to find a notorious white supremacist has moved next door. And he's inviting all his skinhead friends to join him.
This is the nightmare scenario in Welcome to Leith, the new documentary from filmmakers Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker.
Nichols and Walker tracked the growing fear and outrage that ensued after white nationalist leader Craig Cobb moved to Leith, North Dakota with plans to take over the town. He strode in with weaponry, Nazi regalia and a penchant for baiting the townspeople into confrontation.
At a Q&A in Los Angeles hosted by the International Documentary Association [IDA}, the filmmakers characterized the documentary this way.
"We felt like this bordered on a genre film," Walker said, "sort of like a horror thriller."
Nichols and Walker not only gained access to the indignant townspeople but to Cobb himself, who makes for an oddly compelling figure -- at times arrogant and smug, at other times pitiful. At one point he apologizes to a judge for his menacing tactics, although his meek demeanor seems adopted merely to curry favor with the court.
For all their white separatist and seemingly anti-government sentiment, Cobb and his cohorts are remarkably attached to the Constitution; in the film they constantly assert their First Amendment rights to free expression, often in a peevish manner. And that is what the makes the film all the more chilling -- the fact that Cobb and company can exploit the Bill of Rights to pursue their goal of taking over towns of their choosing.
Welcome to Leith has played in New York, Chicago and Seattle. It opens in San Francisco Oct. 30; in Boston and Milwaukee, Wisc. Nov. 5; in Los Angeles and Santa Fe, New Mexico Nov. 6; Boulder, Colo. Nov. 12 and to additional cities in November and December. Full list of locations here.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.