Controversial Danish journalist and film-maker Mads Brügger, whose exposé of African diamond smuggling in The Ambassador provoked fury and lawsuits, is working on another Africa-set documentary that is set to be equally explosive.
Brügger’s new film, Operation Celeste, is alleging that the UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, who died with his entourage in a plane crash in Zambia in 1961, was, in fact, assassinated by “a nexus of big powers working in collusion”.
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The English-language film is being produced by Peter Engel through Copenhagen-based production outfit Electric Parc (part owned by Zentropa). Some footage has already been shot. The aim is to start production in earnest in May 2013. Engel is also planning to develop a fictional drama based on the same story.
Brügger and Engel presented the project at the CPH:DOX Forum today (Thurs).
Pitched as an intense political thriller - “John Le Carré meets Graham Greene” - Operation Celeste makes startling claims that hint at cover-ups and skullduggery at the highest levels.
Hammarskjöld was described by US President John F Kennedy as “the greatest statesman of our century.” However, some believe the Americans, British and Russians may have all been involved in his death.
“It is going to be a very cool, Errol Morris-like mathematical investigation of the death of Hammarskjöld,” Brügger said.
Swedish diplomat Göran Björkdahl, whose father was then working for the UN in Zambia, is the main protagonist in the doc. Björkdahl has spent many years investigating the shady circumstances behind the UN boss’s death.
“He is as Swedish as Volvo and the very opposite of a conspiracy theorist,” Brügger told ScreenDaily of Björkdahl.
While at the helm of the UN, the liberal Hammarskjöld is believed to have antagonized the western powers as well as the Russians with his strong advocacy of African rights.
“He was very keen on protecting and defending new independent states in Africa. He believed in a very active, very muscular United Nations.”
The director claims to have amassed a wealth of circumstantial evidence relating to the death. In particular, he has been drawing on the accounts of African witnesses to the plane crash.
“The very idea that someone would be able to assassinate the United Nations Secretary-General is mind blowing,” Brügger said.
“He is beyond the President of the USA, beyond the Pope - he is the Chairman of the Board really.”
One challenge facing the director is that - with Liberia keen to extradite him - he risks arrest if he goes back to Africa.
In some quarters, Brügger has been accused of stepping over ethical lines. In The Ambassador he paid bribes to politicians and middle men who promised him access to blood diamonds. The team behind the doc have always argued that this was necessary to expose the corruption of their intermediaries.