General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait is the 1974 documentary film by Barbet Schroeder. Known for such films as Bar Fly and Single White Female, he began his filmmaking career making documentaries. In 1974, Schroeder struck a deal with a television network who was making one-hour shows about heads of state around the world. The network agreed to let him make his film first and in return give them enough footage from the shoot to turn it into a one-hour show.
Schroeder and his crew traveled to Uganda to document the notorious Amin who had been in power for almost three years at that point. Amin had been previous president Milton Obote’s right-hand man before staging a coup and overthrowing Obote in 1970. Amin’s takeover was welcome since Obote had been an unpopular president, However, Amin quickly ushered in a brutal and senseless dictatorship where he banished Asians from Uganda and disappeared more than 12,000 of his own people.
This Criterion Collection edition of General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait is is a fitting film for the current American political climate. Throughout the 90-minute documentary, there is little of Schroeder’s interjection outside of a few moments throughout the film. The audience is mostly treated to parties, performances, military-training routines, and speaking engagements all staged by Amin for the sake of the cameras. Amin’s own ego and rationalization of his violent acts drive the film forward and are a striking parallel to the Trump administration.
Besides the documentary, this Criterion Collection edition includes interviews with Schroeder from 2001 and 2017, an interview with journalist and author Andrew Rice about Amin’s regime, and an essay by critic J. Hoberman.
This documentary is an important look at unchecked power, racism, nativism, and violence through the dictator’s own lens. If we are to continue to learn from the past, returning to films like General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait becomes all that more important.