A HARD-hitting new documentary investigating Donald Trump’s contentious golf resort in Aberdeenshire is set to put the First Minister in an uncomfortable spotlight when it is released in cinemas two weeks before the independence referendum.
Alex Salmond features prominently in Anthony Baxter’s film A Dangerous Game voicing his support for Trump’s plans and the promised jobs bonanza it was meant to deliver.
The SNP leader is also heavily criticised in the film by residents of the Menie Estate for ignoring problems allegedly caused by work on the golf resort. Salmond refused to answer any of Baxter’s questions or to be interviewed.
The director told an event at the Edinburgh International Film Festival that Salmond had twice agreed to be interviewed but pulled out on both occasions. He was unable to secure the promised interview before the film, which is being funded by both the BBC and the Scottish Government’s own arts agency, Creative Scotland, had to be finished.
Baxter revealed a deal had been struck during the film festival to release A Dangerous Game in Cineworld and Picturehouse venues across the UK in September. Scottish cinemas will show the documentary from 5 September.
Baxter also revealed that coverage in The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday’s sister paper, of the coveted “Top Scot Spirit of Scotland” award for Menie resident Michael Forbes had helped inspire the new film – after he was summoned to see Trump’s son Donald Jnr and later secured an interview with the billionaire tycoon himself in New York.
By contrast, he said he tried for four years to persuade Salmond to speak about his role in the saga.
The new film – shortlisted for the audience award at the festival – sees Baxter return to Menie to look at the impact of the initial Trump golf course and revisit local campaigners who fought against the development.
It has been dramatically scaled back since Trump first announced his plans for the area, with the tycoon blaming plans for an offshore wind farm that was at the centre of a bitter dispute with Mr Salmond’s government, who had earlier overturned a decision by councillors to reject the development.
The film-maker also travels to Dubrovnik, in Croatia, and the United States to look at other controversial golf resorts and the protests they have triggered from environmentalists.
Baxter said: “It is very important to be able to challenge people in power, but it’s also important to challenge politicians as well.
“In a way, the film is not so much about Trump, but about democracy. It breaks down when people who are elected to represent us fail to do so or refuse to do so.
“Trump was just one part of the story – a billionaire who is so powerful and has been given access to decision-makers.”
Part of Baxter’s film – a follow up to his 2011 documentary You’ve Been Trumped – explores difficulties endured by the residents who took on Trump, some of whom claim they have to use water from a local burn because they cannot get anyone to repair damaged systems.
Forbes, a farmer and part-time salmon fisherman, is particularly critical of Salmond in the film for his lack of interest in their plight.
Baxter told Scotland on Sunday: “Over a period of months, Mr Salmond’s office postponed, rescheduled, postponed, and then finally agreed to an interview. And then cancelled the whole thing at the last minute.
“Among other things, we wanted to ask the First Minister about the effect of the Trump golf course development on local residents, including a 90-year-old woman who hasn’t had a proper water supply for four years, and about what happened to the 6,000 jobs his government promised when approving the development.
“The residents lived in Alex Salmond’s constituency long before Donald Trump bought the coastline.
“One of the things we wanted to show is that even after this great outpouring of public support for the residents and especially for Michael Forbes – even after he won Scotsman of the Year and was even congratulated by Alex Salmond – the Trump Organisation continued to make their lives extremely difficult.
“And the residents were just as helpless as they were before.”
Among those critical of Salmond in the film is folk singer Karine Polwart, one of the leading cultural figures in the Yes movement, who wrote an acclaimed song inspired by the Trump saga in Aberdeenshire. She attended the premiere of the film in Edinburgh last week. She said: “He’s the First Minister of Scotland and the local constituency MP. A lot of people are disappointed. Until we have a proper explanation of why it occurred there’s always the possibility it could happen again.”
Leading land reform campaigner Andy Wightman, who also attended the screening last week, said the key issue over the handling of the Trump development in Aberdeenshire was the fact that local democracy had been “corrupted”.
Last night a Scottish Government spokesman said: “Clearly, it would not have been appropriate for the First Minister to undertake an interview at a time when the Trump Organisation was pursuing a judicial review through the Court of Session of the Scottish Government’s decision to grant consent for the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre.”
Forbes himself predicted he had not seen the last of Trump in Aberdeenshire, despite his insistence he was turning his back on further investment at the resort.
He said: “I’m expecting him to be back again. He hasn’t just dumped things and left – he’ll come back.”