As a movie plot, the story has some obvious charms. A famously well-groomed American billionaire with a global reputation and a colorful private life confronts a handful of somewhat scruffy local Scots who are determined to thwart his plans to develop a bleak but beautiful patch of their homeland.
But this is no cheesy Hollywood fiction. Scheduled for next week is the first New York screening of a scathing documentary that sets out the case against a $1.2 billion golf resort on a wild stretch of the Scotland’s northeast coast.
The villain? Attention-loving American property mogul and onetime presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Like any good movie, You’ve Been Trumped also has its own heroes, notably British director Anthony Baxter, who remortgaged his home to finance the picture and has now taken the fight to his adversary’s home territory. In Baxter’s words, “Donald Trump should be held accountable in his own backyard for what’s happening in Scotland.” In the film, Trump is thinking big, promising to create nothing less than “the world’s greatest golf course.” The 1,200-acre Trump International Golf Links will feature two 18-hole courses, a swank hotel, a golf academy, luxury holiday homes, and a residential village. Cue the controversy. For Baxter, the story begins with his own worries over the scheme’s impact on a strip of seaside wilderness, rare in modern Scotland. Building the world-class golf resort, first proposed back in 2006, has meant stabilizing shifting sand dunes—changing the landscape forever and, as critics assert, stripping them of their distinctive environmental qualities.
The project, at first rejected by local councilors, was approved after the intervention of the Scottish government, even though the dunes enjoy legal protection as what’s known as a “Site of Special Scientific Interest.” In the film, finally the bulldozers move in, despite the fierce opposition of a few local residents who are happy to share their views on Trump’s tactics with Baxter.
The filmmaker makes out Trump as the bad guy, as the developer accuses one resident local salmon fisherman of “living like a pig” in “slumlike” conditions. One objector finds his water supply is cut off, and Baxter himself is briefly held in the local lockup, although charges of breach of the peace are later dropped.
As for any damage to the dunes, Trump is seen claiming he’s had “tremendous” support from environmentalists as well as boasting that he’ll enhance the landscape. (“When I finish,” he says, “it will be far more beautiful.”)
According to Baxter, no credible environmentalist organization backs the project.
Baxter’s film was rejected by the Edinburgh International Film Festival, ostensibly for “lack of audience interest,” and the arts-funding agency Creative Scotland turned down his request for cash. Baxter says there’s something behind his difficulties. He says the political establishment and the local press are hesitant to offend Trump, who has said he will create 1,200 new permanent jobs. “The mantra has been jobs, jobs, jobs,” says Baxter.
Whatever the strength of its allegations, the film, which has still to find a distributor, won’t scupper the scheme. Trump is unfazed. On a visit to Scotland last week he announced that the main 18-hole course, now largely complete, is on schedule to open next year, although the financial crisis would mean postponing work on the hotel and some other parts of the resort.
On the other hand, the moral and publicity victory may yet belong to Baxter. Last year, the film won critical applause when first shown at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto. Since then it has won a British award for environmental documentaries–described by the jury as having exposed “one of the most shocking environmental crimes in recent U.K. history”—and it played to enthusiastic audiences last month in Scotland.
Baxter says Trump will be on the guest list for next week’s New York screening. “When he sees the film, I think he would see a side of these people (in Scotland) that he has never seen before.” However strong his taste for publicity, it’s one invitation that Trump might actually decline.