Austin Film Festival Review: King of North Sudan
Oddball geopolitical documentary never quite expunges its Americana
By Jenny Nulf,
3:35PM, Mon. Oct. 25, 2021
Jeremiah Heaton is the definition of Americana: he’s a farmer, comfortably living out in the Virginia countryside with his wife and three kids. During a stint where he was afforded a considerable amount of time off, he got research-happy and discovered a small plot of unclaimed land on a technicality, between Egypt and Sudan.
Due to border disputes, a patch of land known as Bir Tawil was left unclaimed, until Heaton hopped on a plane to Cairo, flag in tow, to declare it for himself, and more importantly, his daughter.
The King of North Sudan is a documentary about Heaton’s journey to make his daughter a princess, but director Abel attempts to uncover some bigger ideas about the United States and white privilege along the way. His endeavor is clunky – Abel’s hesitancy to show Heaton as anything other than a man blindly guided by his Disney-sized dream contrasts against sparse interviews with journalists’ commentary on Heaton’s entitlement as an American. Abel’s too timid to probe Heaton with hard questions, and his documentary suffers from it, leaning more towards the click bait feel-good features that originally wrote about Heaton’s journey for the Facebook crowd.
There’s just nothing interesting under the surface level of Heaton’s story. There’s no venom or tragedy, and the most “insane” the film gets is when Heaton sits across a Chinese investor who has two of his fingers missing. As much as Abel attempts to create intensity in the climax of his film, there’s just nothing there. The Kind of North Sudan has more to say about the mundanity of American life than it does about colonialism, and it’s Heaton’s willful ignorance when it comes to social politics that makes him a tough subject to prod.
By the end it’s clear that Heaton is just a man who has an affinity for wacky get-rich-quick schemes. While his Kingdom of North Sudan has not panned out financially for him, one of his many patents has, and Heaton is currently working with an investor on making one of his many American dreams a reality. Heaton’s restlessness and desire to always have more than he owns feels like the core of the documentary, one pointedly missed by Abel in his attempt to patchwork a story together from tabloids.
King of North Sudan
Wed., Oct. 27, 5pm Hideout Theatre
Austin Film Festival, Oct. 21-28. Find all our news, reviews, and interviews at austinchronicle.com/austin-film-festival.