Nonso Christian Ugbode

Nonso Christian Ugbode

We’re always glad when we can let you know of important films we see going for a Kickstarter campaign, “Welcome to Leith” is one of these films; an intense story about the conflation of citizen rights, and racial justice. Does one man’s vision of a Whites Only city being executed with weapons deserve the protection of democracy? We caught up with filmmaker Michael Nichols (Flex is Kings) and asked him to share some of his experience making “Welcome to Leith.”

How did you find the story of Leith?

When I first read about Leith and Craig Cobb’s plans in the New York Times last August, I was intrigued. But the plan seemed so far-fetched that I figured it’d fizzle out now that the national spotlight was on him and the town. I forwarded the article to my filmmaking partner Christopher with the subject line “this is crazy.” But then a month went by, and I read about Cobb holding a town hall meeting co-hosted by the head of the NSM (National Socialist Movement, founded by members of the American Nazi Party), and the massive counter-protest that ensued. The story was moving forward, and Cobb wasn’t just going to go away. A couple weeks after that a family of white supremacists moved to Leith and vowed to help Cobb succeed in his takeover plan. At that point we decided we needed to go to North Dakota to start filming – something really important was happening. A story about race, extremism and civil liberties was playing out as a direct effect of the massive state oil boom in a ghost town 70 miles from civilization.

What do you hope the audience walks away with after seeing this film?

Hopefully they’ll be able to, in a really sensory way, feel and acknowledge the struggle that the town of Leith went through. There might be a sense of relief that the town came together around a common cause and maintained sovereignty. But at what cost? The Bakken oil boom will be giving us unexpected stories for another couple of decades, but hopefully none as dark or as strange as this one.

Who was the most unexpected character to make a meaningful contribution to the story you’re telling in Welcome to Leith? Why?

We’ll have to circle back to this one after we start editing – too many unexpected and fascinating characters to single one out at this point.

Click here to support this film’s production through their Kickstarter campaign

What was the most difficult part of making this film in terms of managing the emotional impact issues of race have on all sides of the conversation?

Over the course of three seasons and 43 days of production, our two-person crew filmed: racialist flags displayed and flown, the night burning of a neo-nazi property in the dead of winter, council meetings introducing town ordinances meant to drive out the supremacists, the burning of Cobb’s swastika signs, jail interviews, heated court hearings, Cobb in hiding, and families teaching each other how to shoot guns for protection. At various moments Chris and I were accused by both sides of being agents of either Cobb, the SPLC, the CIA, or the FBI. This seemed almost laughable to us at first, but it reflected the emotional fatigue and resultant paranoia that everyone dealing with this stressful situation had endured. If you fly a swastika flag in your yard, you’re closing yourself off from the possibility of any productive conversation about race or worldview. What came across most during our trips was a sense of fear and confusion – on both sides. The tension was palpable and completely logical. Had any violence occurred there was little chance law enforcement could act quickly enough – there are four police officers patrolling 1300 square miles. We weren’t attempting to manage emotions so much as focusing on documenting them and staying safe.

What are your future plans for the project?

Our goal is to have a cut of the film completed by late September ready to submit to festivals – however, this is only possible if we reach our Kickstarter goal by July 2nd. If we don’t get funding, the film won’t get made. But we’re optimistic. We believe this is an incredibly important story about racism in America, and want as many people to see it as possible. Please share the project with your friends, and contribute if you can!

Click here to support this film’s production through their Kickstarter campaign