Cold Case Hammarskjiöld, Documenting the Undocumented Genocide?


Right out of the theater and both hyped up and disturbed by this important film. A great work of investigative journalism, Cold Case Hammarskjiöld is a must-see for everyone to see the dark history of the genocide of Africans by white supremacists.

Shown as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival, the film starts with a black-and-white animation showing a plane being blown up in the sky. Soon, we find out the plane belonged to Dag Hammarskjiöld, the second secretary general of the United Nations. Mads Brügger adopts a combination of animation, photos, and live-action to make a breathtaking thriller, an engaging whodunit to find who murdered Hammarskjiöld. The animations work as reenactment and the photos are used to provide documents. The past live-action part shows some films of Hammarskjiöld, and the present live-action part is comprised of Brügger dictating the script to two African women, who are his secretaries for this project, as well as a lot of interviews.

While the first half moves forward slowly, the second half moves so fast that it would be hard for you to just sit back and watch the film. In the middle of the film, Brügger seems defeated and unable to solve the puzzle due to all the hidden information and almost no cooperation by anyone. However, suddenly the films takes a sudden turn and new pieces of evidence get revealed one by one to disclose one of the darkest moments of humanity’s history: the plan by white supremacists to eradicate all Africans from the face of the Earth.

Given the confidentiality of most of the documents out there and the lack of cooperation by the institutions involved, the film heavily relies on the individual witnesses as well as some of the documents leaked out by former members of South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR), the institution based in South Africa and Mozambique to follow to that mission. That is why some has cast doubt on the authenticity of the information provided in the film.

Brügger adopts a complicated persona throughout the film. He dresses as Keith Maxwell, the founder of SAIMR, sits down on a couch and dictates to African women what to write, a simple reenactment of white supremacy. But then when he goes out to interview people who are informed about this matter, he dresses differently and adopts an investigative journalist persona. It’s a simple hint by him to remind the viewer that the exploitation of Africans by White people does not belong only to the past but it’s an ongoing matter.

The film will make people uncomfortable; uncomfortable by throwing a dark truth to their face, and that needs a big standing ovation. Hope it gets wider distribution, especially in universities and community centers, because I think many theaters will not take the risk to show it and the film needs to create discussions and not just for the viewer to see it and move on. At the same time, I do hope theaters will grant it exhibition, even if they only care about profit.


About Author

Hamidreza Nassiri

Hamidreza Nassiri is a PhD candidate in Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His dissertation examines the influence of digital technologies in media industries on democracy and social justice on local and global levels, with a focus on Iranian cinema. He also founded and directed the Wisconsin Iranian Film Festival for two years, was the programming director of the first Midwest Video Poetry Festival, and the executive director and jury member at the 3rd Globe International Silent Film Festival. Hamidreza is a filmmaker. His last short film, IMMORTAL (2018) became finalist and semi-finalist in several film festivals. He has taught film production and film studies for years, in college and in community. In 2019, after receiving the Humanities Exchange (HEX) Award, he ran free filmmaking workshops for underrepresented communities in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2021, he ran a free digital storytelling workshop for working class people of color in Madison. He was also the Educational Development Fellow at the Arts + Literature Laboratory, a non-profit dedicated to democratizing art and art education in Dane County, from 2019 to 2020.

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