Hot Docs 2015: Chameleon

Ryan Mullins‘ riveting documentary Chameleon examines the life and career of Ghana’s most famous and celebrated investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who has achieved celebrity status after spending over a decade risking his life to expose corruption and criminal activity in his home nation, and bringing guilty parties to justice.  Anas has often been called “the James Bond of Ghanaian journalism” due to his track record of using risky undercover tactics in order to infiltrate dangerous situations and attain what he refers to as “hardcore evidence” – indisputable proof captured via hidden camera that confirms the guilt of his targets.  Working closely with local police forces, his mission and mantra is described as the “naming, shaming and jailing” of those responsible for human-rights violations and horrible acts of indecency.

Anas has kept his face hidden from the public in order to maintain his anonymity, and in the process has become something of a symbol, demonstrating the power that one individual has to incite change, and speaking to the inherent responsibility of the journalist to improve the world around them by digging deep to uncover its darkest secrets, and bringing them to light in the public eye.  Despite the fact that Mullins refrains from showing us Anas’ face throughout the course of his documentary – often filming him from behind or using close details of his hands or mouth – his assured and experienced voice remains the driving force of the narrative as he spearheads risky undercover operations, co-ordinates plans of attack with law officials, briefs his writing team on the journal articles that will be published following each arrest, and weighs potential outcomes prior to executing potentially dangerous and unpredictable missions.

Mullins’ film is beautifully shot and incredibly exciting to behold, as he follows Anas with a first-hand approach that places you right in the middle of the action throughout the course of several undercover operations.  These fast-paced sections – made all the more compelling due to their real and highly unpredictable nature – are intercut with more personal footage of the journalist giving a speech to students at his former school, and visiting his grandmother at her home.  These glimpses of Anas’ life in between missions function to paint a more vivid picture of the man behind the mask, speaking towards the nearly mythical status he’s achieved among his people while also highlighting the raw humanity that drives him to do the things he does.  Through this, Mullins succeeds in cutting through the myth to present Anas as a true hero of flesh and blood, consistently devoting his life to fight injustice in all its shapes and sizes.

If there is one thread that leaves itself open to pulling in Chameleon, it’s perhaps the way that the film glosses over the controversial aspects and collateral damage that result from Anas’ work, simplifying at times what are in fact devastating, life-altering actions with large personal impacts to those involved.  While Mullins’ obvious enthusiasm and reverence for his subject may be partially responsible for the film’s one-sided view, the truth that comes across more fully is the simple fact that there are extreme circumstances in this world to which the only appropriate responses are extreme courses of action.  It is undeniable that Anas’ work over the years has helped more people than it has hurt, saved more people than it has victimized, and for this reason, the ends in his case certainly seem to justify the means.

In any story exploring revolutionary behaviour born out of a will to improve the world, there will always be an inherent skepticism biting at the facts that are presented and attempting to turn them on their head to see what is underneath – as there should be.  Yet in the case of Chameleon, we are invited to take a front row seat to look evil right in the eyes, and the end result is a greater peace of mind in knowing that a man like Anas exists to stand up for the voiceless and the innocent against the cancers of corruption and inhumanity that erode society from the inside.

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Mark D'Amico

Mark D'Amico

Film Editor and Writer at Addicted
Mark is a lover of film, television and literature, with a particular passion for all things horror. Born on the 31st of October, he was conditioned at an early age to perceive zombies, vampires and masked lunatics as signs of forthcoming presents and candy. He also has several years of experience working in the film, television and advertising industries, both on set in the camera department, and in the harrowing world of post-production.
Mark D'Amico

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