Welcome To Leith

by Charles Nash

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday November 5, 2015

'Welcome to Leith'
'Welcome to Leith'  (Source:Sundance Institute)

As terrifying as it is irrefutably essential, "Welcome to Leith" is a portrait of a small, secluded town in North Dakota threatened by a white supremacist movement. Through their unflinching portrait of an American suburb inflicted by racial intolerance, directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker have crafted a harrowing film demanding retaliation against blind forms of hatred.

The picture begins with the mayor of Leith, North Dakota, informing us that the town is "three square miles and 24 residents, with the children." In 2012, a white, nationalist Neo-Nazi, Craig Cobb, purchased a dozen plots of land, and began selling the property to other extremists, such as members of the National Socialist Movement. Due to its isolated locale and low population, Cobb's plan was to overthrow the town of Leith through gaining political power and transforming it into a town built strictly on white supremacy.

What unravels from that point forward is disturbingly compelling. Though Nichols and Walker have crafted the film as a cautionary tale in response to Cobb's racist movement, their bias is camouflaged by providing equal amounts of footage from both the long-standing citizens of Leith and the new radical extremists. It's unclear how these two documentarians were able to gain the trust of certain xenophobic members of Leith, but by presenting their footage as is without a manipulative form of exposition to guide the narrative, the film feels all the more nightmarishly authentic.

The various examples of hypocrisy from Cobb and his followers are sometimes even more chilling than the scenes of physical tension that escalates between the townsfolk.

In one segment, the film cuts to footage shot by white extremist, Deborah Henderson, depicting her husband, Kynyan Dutton walking down the street with Cobb carrying "sexy-ass guns" throughout the neighborhood, harassing citizens with the supposed intent of "stop[ping] the hate." Later on, however, she states, "No one has any right, no matter who you are or what you believe in, to make you leave just because they don't like you," regardless of everything she claims to politically stand for.

Despite illustrations of the psychological violence caused by bigotry, the film supplies no easy answers as to how to resolve racial intolerance. This glaring omission is certainly the most frustrating aspect of the film, but, simultaneously, the lack of any tidy conclusion only makes the film all the more ambiguously provocative.

"Welcome to Leith" may not be easy to view, but it's a vital, important film that exposes the destructively sadistic nature of racial discrimination from white, privileged members of American society. In a day and age where acts of racially charged violence remain all too common within our country (i.e. the Charleston Church shooting), this is a documentary that demands to be seen.

At the MFA in Boston