Talking Movies: Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-truth World, Sakawa and The Letter

Spling reviews Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-truth World, Sakawa and The Letter as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about three documentaries that will feature at this year’s virtual Encounters Documentary film festival.

Starting off with…


An exploration of the promise of open source investigation, taking viewers inside the exclusive world of the collective known as Bellingcat.

Writer-Director: Hans Pool

Stars: Christiaan Triebert, Eliot Higgins and Timmi Allen

– We’re living in a time when traditional gatekeepers have handed over a great deal of power to the audience.
– Now that everyone can potentially be an accidental journalist at the scene of a happening with their smartphone, the rules of journalism have changed and there’s a great deal of freedom to interpret and manipulate information.
– The ability to broadcast far and wide without any official verification, authority or credibility means that anyone can effectively pick up a loudspeaker.
– As Professor Claire Wardle points out, “We have an emotional relationship to information… if you receive information that reinforces your world view, you’ve got no interest to check it.”
– This blur is what prompted founder and executive director, Eliot Higgins, to launch the organisation.
– Flexible, nimble and untethered, the news team of truth-seekers have more time to drill down and are able to leverage available open source data better.
– Profiling some of their brave members, interviewing professors and lacing together news footage, Bellingcat is a thoroughly entertaining, fascinating, inspiring and timely documentary.
– It restores hope in an era where there’s so much illusion and suspicion around what’s real and what isn’t – and is influencing reputable news institutions like The New York Times to incorporate these ideas.
– Presenting some of Bellingcat’s most compelling and fascinating breakthroughs as case studies, the film covers the MH17 disaster, the Syrian Civil War and mysterious poisoning of a Russian spy in the United Kingdom… right now, they’re investigating the explosion in Lebanon.
– This kind of deep dive news analysis is essential in the media-saturated post-truth era and will inspire a generation of truth-seekers – but only if we help them.

An excellent 8 on the splingometer

Moving on to…


A group of young Ghanaians turn to internet fraud to help them with a desperate situation.

Director: Ben Asamoah

– This documentary immerses itself in the subculture of a group of online dating website fraudsters in Ghana.
– Posing as women and flirting with real lonely hearts these young men have turned curated fantasy relationships into a full-time career.
– Grappling with the socio-economic conditions they find themselves in, luring their marks into wiring them money, harvesting hard drives from old computers from the local dump to mine personal data and trying to raise enough money to travel overseas or start a real business, this is their life.
– Colourful, crazy and surreal, Sakawa is a bold and thought-provoking documentary that simply journeys with several of these fraudsters.
– Impoverished yet leeching off gullible, lonely men the contrast is stark and the irony runs deep.
– Venturing from their operation to their ambitions and set against a culture where false prophets are essentially doing the same thing, the documentarian uses this juxtaposition to do all the talking.
– It’s amazing just how integrated he is in this subculture, a fly-on-the-wall capturing some amazing moments… from a fraudster getting sweet with one of his clients over the phone to the preachers and witch doctors blasting the area over their loudspeakers.
– Presenting the situation without bias or any attempt to solve the problem, it makes a fascinating, surreal and sometimes shocking journey with a few takeaways.

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

And finally…


A grandson travels to be with his grandmother after she receives a death threat.

Directors: Maia Von Lekow and Christopher King

– Kenya’s Witchcraft Act in 1925 made it illegal to accuse or threaten to accuse someone of being a witch or practicing witchcraft.
– Nowadays an anonymous letter does all the work giving those who feel cursed the convenience of a scapegoat for all their problems.
– The younger generation appear to be exploiting this witchcraft narrative in order to get rid of the elderly to claim an early inheritance or take their land.
– The Letter tracks with one such woman accused of witchcraft, who together with her family try to make sense of the accusation from their neighbours.
– In spite of being a devoted member of her local church, a much-loved grandmother and enjoying the full support of her family, even she comes under threat of a grisly death from this horrifying ordeal.
– Threatened with being hacked to pieces with a machete, many of the accused decide to stay put with no other place to go while a few manage to make the journey to a sacred sanctuary for those who have been accused.
– Delving into the heritage, exploring the dangers and revealing possible short-term solutions, The Letter attempts to present a comprehensive yet personal view of this ongoing travesty by exploring generational politics around land, tradition and inheritance.
– The filmmakers spend a great deal of time documenting this case from the accusation through to a cleansing ceremony.
– Through interviews with family members, their neighbours and local holy men, we get a clear picture of the fragile state of affairs.

A solid 7 on the splingometer

So just to wrap up…

BELLINGCAT: TRUTH IN A POST-TRUTH WORLD… a compelling exploration of current news practices and an inspiring showcase of citizen investigative journalism… An excellent 8!

SAKAWA… an all-access, entertaining, surreal and thought-provoking fly-on-the-wall documentary about a Ghanaian fraud ring… A solid 7

THE LETTER… a colourful, simple yet effective and timely documentary about a growing spate of violence against the elderly in Kenya… A solid 7

For more movie reviews, interviews and previous Talking Movies podcasts visit

And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!