VICE – The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia
The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia is a 2009 documentary released by VICE, or rather, under the playfully named ‘The VICE Guide to Travel’. VICE is an international magazine focused on arts, culture, and news topics. Founded in 1994 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in later years the company expanded into Vice Media, with divisions including the magazine, a website, a film production company, a record label, and a publishing imprint. They so far have a very interesting online collection of educational, interesting, and sometimes controversial films.
I am going to look briefly at the interview held with the ex-warlord who went under the pseudonym of ‘General Bin Laden’ (08:35 – 12:10), and how it is filmed, and presented to the audience in a way that conveys the documentaries theme.
Before the interview begins, the documentary establishes a number of things to the audience, in order to make them understand the hostile environment with which the crew is facing. Between the general introductions, and the interview beginning, there are a lot of obscure angled handheld shots. These along with the dialogue explaining their current predicament may well have been filmed to conceal cameras and allow the crew to stay alert, but it serves well in demonstrating how little control the interviewer (Shane Smith) has over his surroundings. This in turn not only conveys the dangers of Liberia, but once ‘General Bin Laden’ begins to take control of the situation, it shows the audience the level of power he has, or believes he still has.
During the interview there is a mixture of medium shots of the General, and two shots of the General and Shane. The focus is mainly kept on the General, and all of the wider shots show men around him. Between these varied shots are a number of fast camera movements, pans, zooms, and some Dutch angles; these things combined give an uncomfortable feel to the interview. This helps the audience understand, and feel the uncertainty of the situation being filmed. We feel as though the crew doesn’t feel comfortable, they are in unfamiliar, and intimidating surroundings, the style of filming is almost rushed, which makes us, the viewer feel as though they want to leave quickly, or are staying as concealed as possible, yet alert.
There is also a lot of emphasis on how the subjects treat the documentary crew. As the General warns them of unfamiliar faces, he is protective, and provides safe escort back to their vehicle. We can see Shane, in close company with a number of men being escorted back to safety. And this is important in setting the precedent for the subjects throughout the rest of the documentary. Although titled, The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia, the documentary taps into the warlords’ pasts, but only briefly. The documentary begins to focus greatly on what these people now do for their country, and what they see as being the countries main struggles.
There is also the use of non-diegetic music playing, that often provides a beat of nervousness as the crew often traverse the countries slums etc.