“General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait” (1974) dir. Barbet Schroeder

If you liked Sacha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator,” here’s a film that’s the real deal … and arguably funnier.  Back in the early 1970s, Franco-Swiss director Barbet Schroeder (who later went on to direct “Barfly,” “Reversal of Fortune,” and “Single White Female”) was hired by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin to make a film about him …

From here, I’ll go to the Wikipedia description:

Director Barbet Schroeder has characterized the film as a “self-portrait” by Amin. While Schroeder and cameraman Nestor Almendros were given unprecedented access to Amin’s daily life, the documentary makes it plain that many of the events (including the residents of a garrison town turning out en masse to greet Amin) were staged for their benefit. In several sequences, Amin actively directs the cameraman to particular points of interest, at one point shouting to “film that helicopter!”

However, Amin’s influence as a “director” went beyond the actual filming of Idi Amin Dada. As per his agreement with Amin, Barbet Schroeder made two versions of his documentary: the first, an hour-long cut, was released in Uganda and delivered directly to Amin, who was apparently pleased with the result. The second version was released only outside Uganda and contained an additional half-hour of footage and narration.

According to Schroeder, Amin dispatched his agents in Britain to watch the film and write down a full transcript of its contents. Amin soon sent a letter to Schroeder requesting additional cuts to the film, but Schroeder refused. In response, Amin rounded up almost 200 French citizens living in Uganda and confined them to a hotel surrounded by the Ugandan army, supplying them with Schroeder’s home telephone number and explaining that their release was conditional on Schroeder’s acquiescence. In the face of this dilemma, Schroeder made the requested cuts, replacing the 2½ minutes of excised footage with title cards crediting the gaps to Amin. On Amin’s fall from power, Schroeder restored the missing material, and most versions seen today contain the full footage.

However, as funny as this film is, it’s hard to laugh when you remember all of the horrible stuff Amin did to his people. The man may have been a delusional buffoon, but he was pure evil. He was later ousted from power and was exiled first to Libya and then to Saudi Arabia where Saudi royal family provided him refuge. Amin died a natural death … not exactly the ending he deserved.

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