East End Film Festival: The Outsider

The Outsider
The Outsider
Directed by Tom Meadmore
Screening at EEFF April 20th, 2018

by Bernie C Byrnes

The Outsider is a documentary about Nobu Su who, having taken over his father’s shipping company, increased its value by billions. Then, according to him, the banks conspired to ruin him. And ruin him they did.

Nobu Su transformed company TMT from a humble cargo-carrying firm into a global leader in the international shipping industry. Under his direction, TMT was, at one time, one of the most successful participants in the global freight derivatives market (FFA).

Described by many as ‘Mr Controversy’, until the banking crisis hit it seemed he could do no wrong, despite his unorthodox methods. A true maverick, Su designed never before seen ships and ran his business more like a barrow boy than an entrepreneur. Under his direction, TMT expanded its fleet to include huge carriers. He was even accused of being powerful enough to be influencing the markets. Then he lost it all and, inevitably, the love and support of his family along with it.

In June 2013 Su filed for US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after being put under pressure by Taiwanese creditors, then in 2015 appealed a $47m judgement against him in a long-standing case against Lakatamia. This is a man who doesn’t know when to stop fighting and it’s hard to know if he’s a hero or a fool. One thing is obvious – the stress of these battles will eventually kill him and even a gambling addict wouldn’t take a punt on him winning any.

These days Su is arguably more famous for his conspiracy theories than his business success. He has levelled accusations against the global banking system, including specific attacks on RBS and JPMorgan, as well as widely expounded conspiracy theories that the September 11th terror attacks in the US were engineered by the politicians and bankers to destroy evidence of wrongdoing.

Sounds mad? Perhaps, but much of the evidence included in this documentary is certainly compelling. That said, the maker (Thomas Meadmore) doesn’t seem wholly convinced. The editing presents Su as unlikeable and unhinged. Perhaps that’s the only way to depict him. Pyrrhic victories and self-aggrandizements abound but it’s hard not to think maybe Su is right about ‘all that’. The documentary opens with a quote from the man himself: ‘Make them think you’re crazy… and they will underestimate you’. Su certainly does a great job of convincing the film-makers that he’s crazy. But as the documentary points out: ‘When an individual tries to fight an institution, it’s an uphill battle from the word go’.


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