Have you ever heard of Dag Hammarskjold? No, me neither, perhaps if you are Swedish that my be different, or work for the UN.
Hammarskjold was a Swedish economist and diplomat who served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, being the youngest person to have held the post at just 47.
His second term was cut short when he died in the crash of his DC-6 airplane while en-route to cease-fire negotiations during the Congo Crisis in 1961. The cause of this plane crash is still in some dispute to this day, and is the subject of Cold Case Hammarskjold.
Writer and director Mads Brugger (“The Ambassador”, “Red Chapel (TV)”) and Goran Bjokdahl take on the task of trying to find out what really happen to Hammarskjold on that day in 1961.
Cold Case Hammrskjold sounds, reads and can come across as a giant conspiracy theory, particularly when, during the investigations, the pair end-up uncovering a shadowy organisation called SAIMR, the South African Institute for Maritime Research.
Only, that’s not what this group were doing. They were actually mercenary’s for hire, involved in coup’s in countries throughout Africa and, here’s the larger conspiracy theory bit, are alleged to have been involved in spreading the AIDS virus to black South African’s via fake inoculations.
Now, before you get all up in arms about that, whilst there appears to be proof that SAIMR did exist, the capacity of their existence is hotly contested. One of the leaders, for example, whilst called ‘brilliant’ and ‘very clever’ by some, is also called ‘mentally ill’ by his former wife.
Scientist also say that spreading AIDS in the manner alleged, particularly during the time suggested, would have been near impossible given the technology of the time.
There are, however, some very odd things about the Hammarskjold plane crash and subsequent investigations, or attempts at investigations anyway, both the UK and South African governments refuse to cooperate, tellingly.
When you see photos from the plane crash, the rest of the bodies of the passengers and crew are burnt to a crisp, some have bits scattered across the debris field. Hammarskjold on the other hand isn’t burnt, his clothes and body in tact. He obviously doesn’t look well, I mean, he’s dead, but compared to the other bodies found, it does look odd.
Then there is the playing card found stuffed in his collar, which appears on the photos. Some claim this to the be the Ace of Spades, which is also known as the ‘death card’ and, allegedly, a calling card of the CIA.
There are declassified documents that then begin to point to the plane having been shot down by a rogue Belgian mercenary pilot. Further investigations into this reveal he did use to fly for the British government and was known as The Lone Ranger for his abilities in night, solo flights and combat.
It’s easy to look at the things that are turned up and say, this all adds up to some huge conspiracy at a time when Hammarskjold was apparently going to fundamentaly change the way South Africa would have dealt with the rest of the world, giving them more freedom.
Oddly, my family lived in Ndola around this time, I was just a baby so don’t remember it, other than an attempted kidnap but that’s a different story. All I’m ever told is that we were advised to leave the country because of a war starting.
I never investigated what that war was, how it came about, who was involved, so I’m grateful for Brugger for enlightening me on that.
As for the rest of the documentary. I think I’m as confused as the director appears to be. He admits that a lot of this sounds like fiction, but other parts sound real. It’s hard to know what the truth is, except perhaps, we’ll probably never know the truth at all.
(This review was written as part of the BFI Film Festival London coverage)