Cold Case Hammarskjöld wound up being the last film I saw at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and, surprisingly (for me, anyway) it will be the one I leave thinking about the most. (Meaning, I only saw this because people I trust said, “This is good,” and it also fit in to my schedule.) This is the type of documentary that, while watching, it’s surreal because I kept wondering to myself, “Why am I in the mountains of Utah learning this information? Shouldn’t this be in the news right now?” The revelations in this film, if true (and, boy, they sure do seem true), would change how a lot of us look at the world. I debated if I would write about these revelations because they would be considered “spoilery” I suppose, but I feel like they are too important not to mention. Cold Case Hammarskjöld might just set the world on fire.
Mads Brügger’s film starts as, theoretically, a (strangely) meta investigation into the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed then-U.N. general secretary Dag Hammarskjöld. And, as Brügger lays out his case, it’s an awfully suspicious crash. Hammarskjöld, a Swedish economist and diplomat, was very idealistic and wanted African nations to have independent governments, not puppet governments beholden to corporations or western governments. Basically, the U.K., U.S., and many other nations were about to lose a lot of money. On a flight to the Congo, his plane crashed near the airport. On Hammarskjöld’s body, an Ace of Spades was found, which is both very strange and, apparently was a calling card of the CIA at the time.
The star of this film is Brügger himself who is in a constant state of self-doubt about the story he’s telling. At the beginning of the film he even apologizes in advance that maybe this is just one big dumb conspiracy theory. About halfway through the film, Brügger hits a roadblock. The remains of the plane carrying Hammarskjöld are still buried outside the airport he never reached. In the midst of digging, they are ordered to stop. It’s here Brügger admits he never cared that much about Hammarskjöld to begin with. The only people who remember Hammarskjöld today are old white men. But, this was, as Brügger admits, an excuse to do a documentary about rogue mercenaries and now he had painted himself into a corner … and then Brügger tells us, the audience, his worst fears had come true.
This documentary is actually about a secret organization, with an almost terrifyingly benign title, called the South African Institute for Maritime Research. The rumors about this organization seem so outlandish, at first Brügger isn’t even convinced it’s real. The more digging he does, the more obvious it becomes that this group was real and pretty terrifying.
So, let’s get to what Brügger found. It turns out, the South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR) was a group of highly trained mercenaries that were hired by governments to do the dirty work that a lot of governments wouldn’t want to be associated with. Brügger eventually finds a list of former members and, one by one, we hear them on the phone basically telling Brügger to get lost. Finally, he just shows up at a former member’s house and, I swear, it’s one of the most terrifying interviews I’ve ever watched.
This former agent of the South African Institute for Maritime Research calmly takes us through what they did. Brügger keeps asking this man why he’s sharing this information and, if nothing else, it comes off as the product of extreme guilt. He admits, yes, way before his time, this group was involved in the death of Dag Hammarskjöld.
But the biggest revelation, which had been hinted at by the film up until this point, now confirmed by this former agent, was that the group was involved in biological warfare. Namely, entering black African communities, posing as philanthropists, promising vaccines, but instead injecting black people with the AIDS virus. The goal being to eradicate the black population enough so that South Africa would have a white majority by the year 2000. It’s one of the most shocking and revolting revelations I can remember in a documentary.
Look, right now this is just one interview with first-hand knowledge. (Brügger interviewed numerous people with secondhand knowledge.) And, as of today, Brügger has found witnesses who confirm a leader of SAIMR was posing as a doctor giving black people injections, but nothing further. No one saying, “My father got an injection and then developed AIDS.” It seems something like this will be needed to prove this awful story.
In a post-film Q&A, Brügger says his witness had to move to an undisclosed country before this film debuted out of fear for his life. He also said his witness is cooperating with a current U.N. investigation into all of this. Everything about this movie just feels so terrifying. If true, SAMIR is filled with some of the most evil and dangerous people around.
I’m sure there will be a push to discredit Mads Brügger. But Brügger takes us meticulously through his research and his own self-doubt about all of this. If all of this is true, Mads Brügger realizes what he’s discovered. And he knows how dangerous this information will be.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld is a must-see film. And its revelations might just change our perception of how evil this world can be.