A Dangerous Game

A Dangerous Game launched at the Edinburgh Festival last night. Patrick Small investigates the films significance.

You’ve Been Trumped, Anthony Baxter’s documentary about the fight between local residents and tycoon Donald Trump over his plans to build a luxury golf resort in Aberdeenshire, was a startling success. Released in 2011, it caught the anti-globalisation spirit of the times as people woke up to the realities of post-crash austerity. The film revealed Baxter as a talented story-teller, able to convey facts and emotion with panache and ask questions rarely put to powerful men in an age of media deference.

As Baxter took You’ve Been Trumped on the international festival circuit, he noticed a recurring pattern. Wherever it was shown, people recognised the story as theirs. Communities across the world experienced something along similar lines: the super rich would show up proffering an exorbitant leisure/property scheme on the promise of jobs and myriad economic benefits. When locals protested, elites would push through the proposals regardless of environmental or democratic concerns. The few jobs created would be low-pay and short lived.

You’ve Been Trumped was made during a time when the world was becoming more attuned to the consequences of unfettered power and money” wrote Baxter in 2012, in Product.  “The painful global financial crisis, and the Occupy movement it spawned, has been the real-life backdrop for the many film festivals that asked to show You’ve Been Trumped before its theatrical release.  Whether in Alabama or Zagreb, it was obvious that the events that unfold in You’ve Been Trumped were somehow encapsulating the widespread anger about the actions of what all were now calling ‘the 1%’.”

The film set a number of hares running, and sported a formidable cast of very real characters. Local residents Susan Munro, David Milne and Michael Forbes refused to sell their properties to Trump and suffered accordingly, but emerged with considerable dignity. Trump came over as bumptious and self-regarding, and was airily dismissive of Baxter’s dangerously off-message requests at various stage-managed press events. Casually, Trump castigated Forbes for the state of his property, saying he lived “like a pig” and should clean up his “slum” farm.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, dazzled by the promise of a jobs bonanza, overruled the local council’s objections to the proposal “in the national interest” and the bulldozers rolled onto the sand dunes of Balmedie, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.

A Dangerous Game takes up the story of the first film and sets it in international context, interweaving it with similar developments around the world. The production is slicker than its predecessor, with stylish new graphics and a haunting soundtrack. There are contributions from the actor Alex Baldwin, environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Junior (the third son of Robert Kennedy), and Scottish folk singer Karine Polwart.

But Baxter is accomplished at making space for people tell their story: A Dangerous Game opens with the camera panning over Michael Forbes’ derided farmhouse. Forbes reads aloud a letter he has received from San Francisco.

“Though I do not know you I wanted to send you a note to let you know the vast majority of Americans would agree with your opposition. I wish you the best of luck in your struggle against Trump. And trust you will find a way to overcome what I see as one of America’s worst exports: arrogant billionaires who think they can buy their way into anything.”

From there, the film weaves in the sorry tale of destruction at Balmedie, the absence of wildlife once common on the estate, the dismissal of ecological concerns and much more besides.

There are lighter moments. Forbes is visibly moved when the public vote him the Top Scot of 2012, a prestigious award sponsored by Glenfiddich whisky. When the Trump Organisation responded by boycotting Glenfiddich, global sales soared.

In Dubrovnik, locals tell of developers’ plans for a luxury resort above their city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They organise to gather 10,000 petitions, triggering Croatia’s first referendum, which rejects the scheme by margin of 85%. As in Balmedie, the character and motivations of the local people shine through the film. Baxter interviews the Dubrovnik mayor, an enthusiastic proponent of the project, who tells him blithely that the project will go ahead regardless of the result.

We are shown the environmental and economic costs of extravagant golf developments in Dubai and Lake Las Vegas which fell victim to the 2008 crash. Everywhere, the interplay between real estate, private developers and local authorities is exposed as a kind of deranged ecological lunacy, with millions of cubic litres of water diverted from crops or reservoirs to irrigate the opulent golf courses of the plutocrats. In Long Island, as in many other places, locals worry about chemical run off from luxury golf courses and gated palaces. Back in Balmedie, Michael Forbes’ 90 year old mother must carry water from a neighbouring burn to her house after the Trump Organisation allegedly damaged Forbes’ water pipe. Of the 6000 jobs promised by Trump, less than 200 are created. Scottish politicians are shown at their patronising worst when a Holyrood committee rejects David Milne’s 20,000 strong petition for an enquiry into the whole affair.

Robert Kennedy Junior appears throughout , making world-weary and sage observations. “Wherever you see large scale environmental injury, you’ll also see the subversion of democracy. The two go hand in hand. They always do.”

A Dangerous Game is moving documentary storytelling at its best, expertly weaving themes and events from disparate locations into one narrative. It illuminates the battle lines between commons and enclosure, and reminds us that they’re the same everywhere. Best of all, it leaves the notion of trickle-down economics – of presenting mega deals with billionaire tycoons as legitimate economic development – in tatters, fluttering in the sands of Balmedie.



A Dangerous Game opens in cinemas across Scotland in September.

Comments (19)

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  1. manandboy says:

    I hadn’t really got it before, maybe partly because I was a golfer.

    But anyway, I get it now.

    Thanks for that.

  2. Clootie says:

    Being a resident in Balmedie at the time let me say this is a slightly distorted version of the truth. It is amazing that the land fill sites on the coast from Bridge of Don to Balmedie (Sites of Special Scietific Interest) are never mentioned. The smell from the one closest to Balmedie made me sick. The litter and pollution was dreadful.
    I walked my dogs on the beach adjacent to the site of the eventual golf course every day and I never seen anyone showing any interest in the Site other than other dog owners.The only wild life was the odd rabbit.

    Trumps treatment of the home owners was dreadful and I do feel for the owner of the old coastguard station and the impact on their dream. However Forbes behaviour was dreadful and any local would not have included him in the same context as the others impacted.

    However people do lose homes in development of bypassess / airport extensions etc. Purchase can and should be fair and balanced.

    Trump was a bully and his behaviour was dreadful but the case was strong enough without additional spin.

    Why were several landfill sites acceptable on SofSSI yet a golf course is not?

    The idea of creating something that will pull tourism spending into the NE was correct and still is.
    How it was executed by Trump was wrong.

    Yes a great deal of bullying by Trump did take place but a more balanced play would have achieved the same point.

    1. Muscleguy says:

      “I walked my dogs on the beach adjacent to the site of the eventual golf course every day and I never seen anyone showing any interest in the Site other than other dog owners.The only wild life was the odd rabbit.”

      Right, so because you only saw rabbits there cannot possibly have been any other wildlife and the presence of your dog could not possibly have scared any of it away from your vicinity. I’m a Biologist and despite being lab based I bet I could have found any number of wildlife you ignored. BTW plants are classed as wildlife in terms of SSSI’s.

      Your argument there is just an argument from personal ignorance and lack of curiosity and as such it only speaks about you, not the SSSI.

      As for the rest of it, that the local authority disregarded the SSSI by siting a landfill next door is not an argument that the SSSI is therefore of no value, but that the local council disregards such things. It’s an argument for drawing a line in the sand at the SSSI, not destroying it.

      1. Clootie says:

        I think you misunderstood my point. From being a military training ground during WW11 through several landfill sites it was wild beach and scrub. The SSSI status “appeared” after the golf complex planning procedure. The 14miles of Beach from the Ythan to the Don and it’s various developments suddenly had a very localised SSSI.

        I remain unconvinced that this project was unique. That is not arguing that you should build on a SSSI.
        My comment was on the use of SSSI as part of a political attack.

  3. The author might want to recheck his facts – to my certain knowledge Salmond kept well back from decisions over Trump’s Golfarama, as he must and did by law.

    And it was Union Jack McConnell who invited Trump to Scotland taking him around in a helicopter to find a suitable spot for his extravaganza.

    Salmond did not, as asserted, overrule a decision to stop the project. His enemies like to imagine it was a conspiracy behind closed doors. The government called it in, ‘in the national interest’ because the land was classed as a conservation area. Again, Salmond was not on that committee and could not be being disallowed by Parliamentary rules. A Parliamentary inquiry exonerated him after Labour did its best to descredit the SNP with anything and everything they could conjure, excluding eating a hamster

    The last thing Bella Caledonia wants to do is the work of Westminster’s spin machine.

    1. Clootie says:

      Fully agree. The last sentence sums it up perfectly.

      1. After McConnell lost power and the SNP joined the Greens in a coalition, it left Salmond between a rock and a hard place as far as Trump’s project was concerned.

        As First Minister parliamentary rules demand he stay well back from Trump’s application and his social acquaintances, but as MP for the area he had to respond to the poverty of employment opportunity blighting Aberdeenshire. He chose to support more employment, the right decision to make.

        He was not to know the golf course would employ few locals, and import others. He knows now, and as he himself said much later, “Trump taught me a lesson.”

        As for Trump…

        There’s no law banning a person from land ownership solely because many people see that individual as a rogue, or a bully. If that were the case, the vast areas of Scotland in private hands would be in public control.

        The result is, if there’s no substantial reason to stop land getting adopted as a golf course, (the committee reviewing the application said the portion of land to be used was not detrimental to the general conservation area) then there’s no method by which you can stop it on the grounds you dislike the owner.

        I fought against the proposal because I was familiar with Trump’s attack style from my time in the USA where he’s considered something of a clown. Not everything he touches turns to gold. And I knew that a development of millionaire houses and a golf course blasted by east coast winds on that coastline was bound to be a failure.

        Every golf course Trump buys with bankster’s money he calls, ‘the greatest course in the world.”

        They can’t all be ‘the greatest.”

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      We’re doing nothing of the sort. People should get some perspective. Bella is not the mouthpiece of any political party

      1. Your ire is misplaced and discourteous.

        The author, Patrick Small, asserts Salmond was responsible for guiding Trump’s project to approval. That’s demonstrably untrue. Salmond kept back from it save to state his support of new jobs.

        Have you ever heard of an MP declaring he is against investment in his constituency?

        Indeed, the author’s assertion of Salmond as schemer is disproved by Bella Caledonia’s own post pointing out the process of responsibility. (See below.) It states, correctly, John Swinney chaired the ‘national interest’ committee. Parliamentary rules barred Salmond from taking part.

        Subjected to scurrilous rumour and innuendo Salmond, ever chased by those keen to smear his reputation, was questioned by a parliamenatry inquiry of his peers. They found absolutely nothing untoward. He was exonerated of breaking the rules.

        The author should correct his assertion.

        But here is what I really object to: the writer says, “Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, dazzled by the promise of a jobs bonanza, …” [My emphasis.]

        “Dazzled by the promise” is a writer’s imagination. How can he know? He wasn’t there when Salmond did what MPs are charged with doing, supported investment in his constituency. For all Patrick Small knows, Salmond could have gnashed his teeth and banged his head off a wall at the thought of being associated with Trump. “Dazzled” is mere conjecture, a cliche plucked out of the air.

        That piece of sloppy writing amounts to spin.

        By inattention to detail the writer suggests Salmond is both a Machiavellian manipulater of the decision making process and, like the perpetual optimist in the Fast Show, a wide-eyed simpleton.

        He can not be both!

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          It’s interesting that Salmond himself has said he learnt from the whole experience, which suggests he has some regrets about the whole Trump saga. To suggest that Salmond is blameless and faultless in all and every situation is just bizarre and to suggest that any mildly critical commentary is ‘spin’ is infantile. We need to inhabit a grown-up world in which the SNP, Salmomd and the Yes movement are able to be exposed to the same critical analysis as the rest of the universe. If you can’t inhabit that world you do the independence movement a disservice.

  4. Gary says:

    ‘but as MP for the area he had to respond to the poverty of employment opportunity blighting Aberdeenshire. He chose to support more employment, the right decision to make.

    He was not to know the golf course would employ few locals, and import others. He knows now, and as he himself said much later, “Trump taught me a lesson.”’

    Then he was shockingly naive, as the local MSP he should have considered the welfare of residents living on and adjacent to the site. It was not the right decision to make. I can you now how few local people golf courses support, it is not hard to find out.

    1. as the local MSP he should have considered the welfare of residents living on and adjacent to the site.

      That’s the task of the local council, not the local MP.

      The Labour party does its best to weaken what little democratic powers our Parliament can exercise by demanding decentralisation in almost everything, while you suggest the First Minister ought to have interfered in the decision making procedure of local government.

      1. gary says:

        I beg to differ, you yourself said: ‘but as MP for the area he had to respond to the poverty of employment opportunity blighting Aberdeenshire. He chose to support more employment, the right decision to make.’ – but by your argument, that is a job for the local council, is it not? Me, I believe a local MSP should consider the welfare of his constituents, an elected member of parliament is often the last resort for constituents.

      2. What evidence do you have that Salmond ignored his constituents pleas for help?

        As for his alleged relationship with Trump, I recall some very nasty things said of Salmond by Trump, followed by a court case that failed to get wind turbines cancelled that would ‘spoil the aesthetics’ of yet another golf course Scotland doesn’t need.

        A relationship the ungenerous are keen to say was hand-in-glove looks more like pistols at dawn.

  5. bellacaledonia says:

    For some clarity on process and responsibility:

    The application was rejected at a meeting of the authority’s Infrastructure Services Committee on the casting vote of the chair following a 7-7 vote. Minutes of that meeting held on 29th November 2007 are here: (item 8)


    At a full meeting of Aberdeenshire Council on 12th December 2007, the authority recorded its overall support for the project:

    The Scottish Government decided that the project was of a scale which merited consideration at a more senior level. This, in turn, led to the public local inquiry and final consideration of the project by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney. The Scottish Government indicated that they were minded to grant approval on 3rd November 2008 and planning permission was granted on 16th December 2012:


  6. I reply to Bella Caledonia’s spurious dismissal at 08.55.

    My early posts contained criticism of Salmond in his support of the project for jobs, therefore sarcasm that I whitewash him is seriously silly.

    But the author – I have no idea if ‘BC’ and Patrick Small are one and the same – avoids answering the charge of shoddy writing.

    I take no pleasure in criticising a poor review of a documentary on what is, after all, an excellent platform to discuss progressive ideas and policies. But demeaning Salmond in this instance is a gratuitous side swipe.

    My critcism stands – the implication in the leading article supposes Salmond chief manipulator but gives no evidence to support the assertion. Errors of omission add to the opposition’s armoury. Refusal to modfy it smacks of vanity.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Just to clarify Bella Caledonia is edited by Mike Small, as is known widely and is featured in all of our pages, so I’m not sure what point of confusion Grousebeater has? Neither the author nor the editor hides behind anonymity.

      Your welcome to your view on this piece of writing though it stands in fact.

      Your assertion that ‘Bella Caledonia is doing the work of Westminster’s spin machine’ is frankly embarrassing.

      1. Did I say that the essay “‘did the work of Westminster’s spin machine.”?

        I believe I said BC does not want to the work, meaning, by default or error.

        You do me a disservice as much as you do Salmond. Stating I was actively opposed to the Trump proposal pressupposes I’d be opposed to any support of it for jobs by any politician, let alone Salmond. Indeed, I wrote to Salmond to describe Trump’s track-record in the USA, but as I said earlier, being a rogue and a fool does not make you ineligible for ownership of land or its development.

        (As for replies by BC – yes, it confuses. Is the author of the essay responding or is the site’s owner responding? You’ve clarified it.)

        I take exception to accusations of immaturity. Readers should know we’ve met and know each other.

        If you establish a platform as champion of progressive thinking and then have friends and relatives distort it with innuendo and loose supposition be prepared for justified criticism.

        I have made my point – but there is one more to make.

        The real issue is not why the writer chose to defame Salmond by association, but rather what can be done to reduce or stop ownership of land so that it is spread among indigenous population, properly regulated for the benefit of all.

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