Independent Film Festival Boston 2015 – Day 4: ‘Welcome To Leith’ and ‘Slow West’


Just like day three at the 13th Annual Independent Film Festival Boston, day four was filled with hard-hitting cinema.

Even though UTG missed City of Gold, The Year We Thought About Love, and Call Me Lucky (look for our review later this week), we were fortunate enough to see the terrifying doc, Welcome to Leith, and the hilariously subversive western, Slow West.

If anything, we at UTG are mad about missing Deathgasm. Seriously, why wouldn’t you want to see a film titled Deathgasm? The Jason Schwartzman-led Seven Chinese Brothers also played but by then we were a little jaded by what we saw.

Welcome to Leith


When The Beatles sung, “you say you want a revolution,” I doubt they thought their words would reach Craig Cobb. Cobb is one of the nation’s most virulent white supremacists, a man who believes in his own privacy but violates others with his hate-filled bigotry. Also, the guy looks like the head of the church in Kevin Smith’s Red State, which is never a good sign. Welcome to Leith is a shocking documentary about white supremacy in America that will chill you to the bone and silence you. Seriously, everyone was completely silent when the credits rolled.

Leith, North Dakota was a small little ghost town inhabited by 24 people until Cobb moved in and started buying property for his cronies. That was in August of 2013 and within a few months, the residents of Leith were pushed to their boundaries, forcing themselves to take initiative against Cobb’s invasive and racist practices. The film chronicles August of 2013 to February of 2014, treating the viewer like they are a citizen of Leith forced to choose between “playing nice” and “lashing out”; whether that be physically or mentally.

Directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker paint the most objective portrait that they can in this situation. The material they have will shock you. Testimonials and footage straight from Cobb is littered throughout the runtime, making the viewer lose faith in humanity. Well, that is until you see how the citizens of Leith react. As you may well know, humans (rational ones, especially) have a brilliant degree of resiliency for this kind of thing.

Welcome to Leith starts with a smartphone video of Cobb and his disciple, Kynan Dutton, going on a nice stroll with their assault rifles and mouths cocked. You know, just to instill the sense of neighborly love in the small town. Kynan’s wife is the camerawoman and utters something almost just as disgusting as her bigotry spew: “Here I am with my men and their two sexy guns.” When someone comes down your road with an assault rifle, you probably wouldn’t be talking about how sexy guns are.

The doc has some really weird politics, though. When watching, you can’t help but side with the citizens of Leith. Unless you are someone who sides with people who yell racial slurs and try to assert their dominance by way of ignorance? In that case, you probably won’t want to see your brethren torn apart (mentally, of course) in the doc.

Cobb and Dutton wanted a revolution, to reinstate the dominance of Neo-Nazi power through the National Socialist movement. They claim they just want a place to feel comfortable with their own brand of people. Instead, they go to town hall meetings and yell at the residents of Leith for what they think their shortcomings are. They are rabble-rousers, getting off at reactions from the media and hiding behind their keyboards and online personalities on hate-spewing forums. Jaded isn’t a word sufficient enough to describe these people. Delusional is more like it.

With the passing of the months and the worsening of Leith’s situation, Welcome to Leith plays around with this idea of racism as if it is a virus that can and will spread given the right host. Leith was the perfect host: isolated, small. Perfect for a takeover.


Slow West


Violent westerns are always the best when they can embrace how foolish and scene-chewing these weirdly clad tropes can play out in the old west. Somehow, Slow West finds the middle ground between Jim Jarmusch levels of mythology and Sam Peckinpah’s uncompromising brutality. This may be John Maclean’s first feature, but it feels like his fifth. It feels like a filmmaker swimming into a plethora of caricatures made up by the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, sifting through the character motivations like gold and unleashing a caricature of westerns that is incredibly restrained.

Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) emigrates from Scotland to 1800s Colorado to find his ladylove, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). Of course, he’s a naïve young guy in need of protection. In comes shooting Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), bounty hunter/bodyguard for hire. Cavendish and Selleck strike up a bond as they travel through the unforgiving west, dodging both bounty hunters and deadly natives that stand in their way. Also, there’s a bounty on Rose and her father’s (Rory McCann) heads. Silas feels a little conflicted.

Slow West is the kind of western that moves at such a pace that when violence hits in varied spurts, it feels better than any blockbuster. For cripes sake, the film has a couple of physical gags that comedies can’t even do right nowadays. Maclean’s debut looks at violence with a smarmy, toothy grin, cooking up much more than your normal headshots and blood squibs.

Jay Cavendish looks up at the stars in the beginning as they illuminate at the touch of his fingertips. Maclean with help from Smit-McPhee’s hopeless romanticism successfully captures the wide-eyed wonder of the old west. It’s a dangerous frontier forcing the hand of the most innocent. Hopefully they have a pistol or two with them.

Silas Selleck is the conflicted bounty hunter torn between his liking of Jay and the money that awaits him with the murder of Rose and her father. His cigar-chewing façade makes for some really great viewing. Jay and Silas have too much to drink one night and one of them starts hallucinating (that’s my theory). Slow West is as playful as you might expect.
Fantastic character actors that wax and wane their way through the narrative also surround the cast. Ben Mendelsohn gets to slap on a fur coat reminiscent of John McCabe and brood around with those steely eyes of his. How has he not been in a western before? The man screams Yul Brynner levels of swagger. Rory McCann from Game Of Thrones pops up as Rose’s father as well, negating the argument that some of the characters make that he is a savage. Just like The Hound, the man has a knack for being vulnerable despite his rocky appearance.

Slow West is a must-see and currently my favorite of the fest. See it if you like something fun, violent, playful, deadly, endearing, and downright creative. A24 and DirecTV have the distribution rights on this one. Look for it in the coming months.


Today we will be checking out Albert Maysle’s In Transit, David Chen’s The Primary Instinct, and Daniel Barber’s The Keeping Room! Check back tomorrow for our thoughts on those.

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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