I first remember reading about white supremacist Craig Cobb in a New York Times profile piece about his attempt to invade the small town of Leith, North Dakota, and fill it with fellow racists. Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker also read Cobb’s story in the newspaper and immediately knew they wanted to make a documentary about what was happening, which turned into “Welcome to Leith.”
In their SXSW Q&A, they revealed that they expected somebody else would have beaten them to the story and, even when they found out that they were the first people interested, they still anticipated that had a short film on their hands. The provocative story and everything that occurred fleshed itself out into a full-length feature that premiered at Sundance earlier this year and will be airing on the PBS documentary spotlight series “Independent Lens.”
Nichols and Walker filmed on site over the course of eight months and partially funded the film using Kickstarter. They were encouraged to come to Leith by the town’s mayor, but were also surprised to find that Cobb was open to their desire to film and interview him as well. The end result is a powerfully raw fly-on-the-wall look at this rural farm community (with less than 30 residents) that was torn apart by the actions of one small-minded man.
The filmmakers had incredible trust and access to the story, allowing us to watch it unfold like a nightmare. In less than six months, Cobb had moved into town and slowly started buying up land. Then, he invited some of the most notorious white supremacist leaders in the country to come to the small town to live. The plan, as it was, consisted of getting enough like-minded people in one place so that they could supplant the local city council. It’s thrilling to see how the local residents rallied together to fight against the extreme hatred in their midst, but also disheartening to see how difficult it was to keep the situation from getting a whole lot worse.
“Welcome To Leith” screens again on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Vimeo Theater.