According to the late Robert Mugabe, he was sacked from his job as the president of Zimbabwe, which is certainly one way of describing a coup d’état. Throughout his 30 years as president (preceded by seven years as prime minister), the words tyrant, dictator and despot were regularly used to describe Mugabe (along with numerous others that wouldn’t pass The Upcoming’s editorial standards), but President isn’t about him as such. It’s more about the aftermath – the country’s attempt to reclaim a legitimate democracy during what were touted as free, fair and credible elections. Mugabe himself is featured, however briefly, but this documentary, which has a distinctive fly on the wall quality, is more focused on those attempting to pull their country out of the long shadow cast by the despot’s decades in power.
If anyone was so inclined, it would be simple to play a drinking game based upon director Camilla Nielsson’s masterful documentary: just take a shot each time the word “credibility” is mentioned (to be serious – nobody should do this; there would be a real risk of liver failure). The word is flung around ad nauseam,, both as a claim and a hope. The ruling ZANU-PF party and its leader (Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s successor), along with the allegedly corrupt Zimbabwean Electoral Commission, all claim the 2018 election will have credibility. The opposition MDC Alliance, headed by the young and charismatic Nelson Chamisa, hope for credibility. To say who was ultimately victorious might spoil certain aspects of the documentary for those unfamiliar with the events, so it’s more appropriate to say that the results were disputed, to put it very mildly indeed. The footage of the post-election unrest is as horrifying and compelling as might be expected.
Utilising the contentious setup and outcome of the election, Nielsson’s film has elements of a political thriller, with the added dimension of being exceedingly matter-of-fact and unembellished. Audiences feel the knife’s edge right along with the documentary’s subjects. The overall effect is an accomplished, informative piece of filmmaking.
President is released in select UK cinemas on 14th January 2022 and on BBC 4 Storyville at 10pm 9th February 2022.
Watch the trailer for President here: