In 1971, the small African nation of Uganda was taken over by self-styled dictator General Idi Amin Dada, beginning an eight-year reign of terror that would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. In this chilling y... more »et darkly comic documentary, director Barbet Schroeder turns his cameras on the infamous tyrant, revealing the dynamic, charming, and appallingly dangerous man whose fanatical neuroses held an entire nation in their grip. Made with the full support and participation of the infamous dictator, General Idi Amin Dada provides a candid and disturbing portrait of one of the 20th century's most notorious figures.« less
"The first thing you may notice about Barbet Schroeder's 1974 documentary on former Ugandan head of state Idi Amin Dada is that song the general plays on the accordion. Darned if that song doesn't lodge in your brain like a malevolent seed. I've been humming those notes for hours with no indication that it will leave me anytime soon. Dada insisted on scoring Schroeder's documentary with his own quirky brand of music. A head of state cranking out the tunes on an accordion is only one of the many bizarre revelations contained in this intriguing study of a dictator and his unlimited power over a central African nation. The DVD tells us that Dada, a former boxing heavyweight champion of Uganda and head of its armed forces, seized power from President Milton Obote in a coup d'etat in 1971. For the next eight years several million Africans experienced what can only be described as a nightmare inflicted by an overweight bully who spoke English with a bad accent, and who killed anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 native Ugandans before his ouster by a combined force of Tanzanian regular army and Ugandan rebels. Dada fled to Libya and then Saudi Arabia, where he resides today with his wife (one of four) and twenty-five of his fifty children. He still thinks he will return to Uganda one day.DADA THE STATESMAN: Schroeder became interested in documenting Dada's reign when he read about the numerous telegrams the general sent to various world leaders. For example, Richard Nixon received a message from Dada consoling him on the Watergate tragedy. Kurt Waldheim got one discussing the role of Germany in the Jewish holocaust, stating that the Jews are not a "good influence" and remarking on German complicity in the Munich terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympics. When Dada heard about economic difficulties in England, he sent a message offering three tons of vegetables in order to help feed the starving masses of London. Despite tensions with neighboring President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, General Dada dropped a line telling the man that he loved him and would marry him if Nyerere was a young woman, but since he was a man he wouldn't think of doing so. The world hasn't seen a statesman like Dada since the reign of Caligula.DADA THE POLITICIAN: Schroeder got General Dada to call a cabinet meeting so the filmmakers could observe the fearless leader in action. After some initial hesitation, Dada complied. The proceedings of this meeting would be humorous if everyone in the room didn't look as though they were afraid for their lives. The general's agenda for the day included such instrumental directives as getting the people to love their leaders, an attendance policy for all cabinet meetings (three absences and you're out of government), and how the foreign minister does a lousy job. The filmmakers break in at this point to announce that two weeks after this meeting occurred, the foreign minister died "suddenly." A personal appearance by the general in a local village looks like a genuine outpouring of love and admiration until we learn that officials planned the whole thing before the chopper carrying Dada even arrived. DADA THE MILITARY GENIUS: Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar cannot compare with this esteemed tactician. General Dada takes the film crew on a tour of a mock invasion of the Golan Heights, which Idi wants to reclaim for his Arab allies. In a show of force that certainly caused Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir to call an emergency meeting of the Knesset, Dada marshals his forces: one tank, one helicopter, a plane or two, and about twenty troops armed with assault weapons. A single flare marks the end of the exercise, which the general declares an overwhelming success. We do discover later that Uganda possesses several more jet fighters that perform admirably as air cover for a military parade. It's lucky for the world that Dada's regime ended in 1978 because the combined might of the world's armed services could never withstand such a powerful foe. When siding with the Arabs against Israel, Dada cites such authoritative texts as "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" as proof of the treachery of the Jews. That this pamphlet is a proven forgery cooked up by the Russian secret police at the turn of the twentieth century makes no impression on this lovable leader.DADA AS ECONOMIC POLICYMAKER: Dada had a dream one day about Uganda's economy, so after finishing breakfast he promptly issued a decree expelling all Israelis and Asians from the country. Since Asians ran 80% of the economy, inflation and other economic woes soared. When discussing capitalism and communism, Dada claims that Uganda is revolutionary, but subscribes to neither of these economic systems. He states that Uganda has "no policy at all." Do I need to go on?Dada often comes off as quite likeable, smiling and laughing heartily along with the film crew over reminiscences and jokes. He takes the filmmakers on a tour of the Nile that is interesting and appears to be fun. We see Dada's family, see him dancing and joking with the people, and jamming with a local band. It is difficult to see the monster behind the laughter, but the evil is there even if it seems as banal as Herr Eichmann. "General Idi Amin Dada" is a fascinating look into one of the twentieth century's most important political phenomena, the power mad dictator. Thanks to Schroeder for making this important film, and thanks to Criterion for bringing it to DVD with a gorgeous picture and excellent sound."
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 07/18/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Twenty five years ago, the art house release of "GENERAL IDI AMIN DADA," a riveting profile of a Uganda's obese, vainglorious, psychopathic dictator, created a sensation. Now, thanks to Criterion, acclaimed Iranian born French director Barbet Schroeder's remarkable look at this seemingly jovial, larger-than-life figure who put over 300,000 people to death between 1971 and 1979 is available in a clean digital transfer. It is amazing that this schizophrenic, racist clown cooperated in the making of his self-portrait. He even played the accordion for the soundtrack. There are numerous unanswered questions surrounding the reign of this bestial despot, who simultaneously claimed he was a "man of the people" and also "President for Life." Schroeder's great skills and unflinching bravery resulted in a chilling and disturbing film that the dictator intended as propaganda, but ironically becomes a revelation of pure evil. The notable cinematography is by Nestor Almendros, who won an Oscar for "Days of Heaven."It is said that Idi is alive in exile (Saudi Arabia?) awaiting an opportunity to return to his former glory.A must see. This incredible film reverberates with issues more relevant to our human concerns for life and freedom than when it was made."
Monster talks up Values! Monster plays Accordion!
Dark Mechanicus JSG | Fortified Bunker, USSA | 12/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Lots of folks have said that Barbet Schroeder's cinematic masterpiece and ballsy documentary "General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait" is chilling and horrifying. Let's set the record straight: no, it's not.
It's funny. It's downright hysterical. And it's absolutely REQUIRED viewing to get a better perspective of this Ugandan success story, this uniquely self-made man, this 6 foot 4 250 pound colossus of sheer destruction and unabetted cannibalism, Ugandan heavyweight boxing champ, designer of epaulette-and-jodphur laden uniforms, former British colonial army sergeant, Army Chief of Staff under doomed former Ugandan President Milton Obote, and once-and-future King of the Sea. Oh, and according to Idi, he could talk to the lions and the crocodiles, too.
Wow---Idi Amin lived a crazy life, didn't he? And Barbet Schroeder, bless him and his intergalactic-extra-gigantic man-orbs, managed to catch all of this insanity on film. That film is "General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait".
WATCH!---as the friendly, helpful, think globally act locally Idi Amin----
*talks to the animals, including crocodiles and lions!
*shoots his AK-47 and stomps around in his designer camouflage gear!
*stages a mock invasion of the Golan heights, with helicopters and tanks! Watch Idi point out all his menacing metallic armored monsters like a 3-year-old schoolkid!
*Dresses down a cowering cabinet (the foreign minister is later found floating upside down in the Nile, ah well), and chews out a bunch of doctors for drunkeness. In the Islamic Shiny Happy World of Idi Amin, cannibalism was in! Torture was in! Invading Tanzania and killing Kenyan students was in! Taking a toddle was, evidently, way *way* out.
*Wins a swimming contest!
*Shakes a spear threateningly and plays the accordion at a state function and dancing party!
*Basically performs smashingly as a perfect Third-World villain (with a striking resemblance to child-actor and "Diff'rent Strokes" star Gary Coleman---or is that just me?) who could easily be a central casting dream from the old "Johnny Quest" cartoon!
Really, Barbet Schroeder was an amazing filmmaker. More amazing is that he got what he did---more than could be believed---on film. And the amazing thing is, Idi Amin gave him full, unfettered access! Amin thought this would be a propoganda coup! Schroeder just lets Idi Amin be Idi Amin, and it is marvellous to watch the General expound: on war, on Uganda, on destiny, on boxing, on the Jews, on Hitler. Especially Hitler. Barbet risks his own neck to ask Idi a pointed question on his fascist idol, and Idi grins, and glowers, and chuckles amiably, and then purrs "why do you ask me about Hitler? Why Hitler"?
Why, indeed, Idi. Why indeed."
Kind of surreal...
Tom Tobin | NJ | 10/28/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Over the course of 90 minutes, we see Uganda's army run a faux invasion of the "Golan Heights", Amin Dada lecture physicians about drunkeness and a meeting of Amin's cabinet where he blasts his foreign minister (who was executed soon after filming) for the negative portrayal of his regime in the world press. It's hard not to laugh at Amin when he claims that he can command crocodiles or tells a large group of educated doctors that the people of Uganda won't respect them if they are drunks. Then you remember this same man killed 350,000 of his own people, and some of the laughs get a little uneasier. I think what fascinates people about Amin is how he could simultaneously be so ruthless and yet, so buffonish. Certainly this documantary (in which some of the shots admittedly were set up by Amin himself) is a good demonstration of the latter and hints towards the former. By the way, this is a great print of the film and Criterion even includes a 25 minute plus interview with Schroder recalling anecdotes about the making of it."
From local bully to world statesman
Matt Heller | Chicago, IL United States | 04/27/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Did you ever wonder what would happen if some random person was suddenly the head of a country? Is it really that complex to be a national leader? I guess we've answered this in America since 2000, but prior to then it was an interesting "what if?".
Well, "what if" happened in Uganda in 1971. A large ex-boxer named Idi Amin seized power in a coup and suddenly was formulating economic policy and thinking deep thoughts about complex world issues like peace in the Middle East. What happens when the local not-too-bright bully is suddenly running the nation? Very bad things! Cabinet ministers turn up dead, the government is run like the local grade school (three tardies and you get sent home), the economic policy is "revolutionary" (meaning very, very screwed up), and the President cares more about feeding crocodiles and winning bogus swimming contests than actually running the country. Oh, and several hundred thousand Ugandans die along the way.
The DVD gets repetitive, but is still worth watching for the sheer insanity that this was the way an actual country was run for a decade. There are plenty of other dictators that killed millions of their countrymen in the 20th century, but none that allowed a documentary crew to follow them around for a couple of days so the world could see how completely ignorant they really were. It would be a great farce if this stupidity didn't cost around 400,000 Ugandans their lives."