The Road to Guantanamo
This year, and I don't just mean with the Oscars, the film industry has felt a little weight of human consciousness and turned its production gaze towards films about human injustice and suffering. That, my friends, is a very good thing, because it helps raise our awareness (as well as entertain us) and also prompts us all out of inaction, particularly and hopefully our Governments.
It was with this belief and hope that I watched the film Road to Guantanamo, and I was sickened.
The film was show on British TV just last week as part of a simultaneous Cinema, DVD and Download release, and on television alone received a 1.6m strong audience.
For those of you who don't know the film tells the story of the three English Muslims who were taken by force in Afghanistan, interrogated repeatedly, held in obscene conditions, and finally taken to the Guantanamo Camp where they were held against their will for years routinely subjected to harsh interrogation. They claim only to have entered Afghanistan to try and provide assistance to the people before they attended their friends wedding in Pakistan.
The film mixes direct conversations with the main characters, archive news footage from Afghanistan at the time, and recreations of the events. The use of the archive footage adds weight and belief to the story as you are watching, and helps to explain just how crazy it must have been to been travelling in Afghanistan at the time of the War.
What struck me about the interview pieces of the film are the grounded reality of these guys, and how they speak of the past events with a sort of disbelieving smirk. It's exactly how I behave when you're describing something to someone and you know the story is just so unbelievable, and yet it's true. That made me believe their stories more than anything, and the interview scenes are placed very well, often to deliver a line with an eerie finality.
The recreated scenes provide surprising realism as well, the locations seem perfect and the situations before the lads get into trouble provide a connection to the viewer almost immediately. This is a really good thing because the general audience needs to make a human connection with these characters early on. Simple scenes like one of them missing the bus, or another being ill while travelling, allow for that slight but important connection to be made in a very human and amusing way.
However the tone soon takes a turn for the worst as the war begins around them, and it's during these moments that you can understand their concern at what might be happening. It's hard though to understand why they kept on going in Afghanistan for so long, knowing that War was happening around them.
The performances through these scenes are good, the actors play it very real and the conversations come across very casual and natural, although the television documentary feeling is still prominent throughout.
When all these elements are brought together, you are drawn into the story and into the lives of these guys, it's almost impossible not to start to feel for them and be appalled at the treatment they receive. For pretty soon they are captured by local forces who place them in metal container trucks, shoot many of them, and leave others to succumb to the insane heat and humidity.
They describe other inhumane acts before they are eventually greeted by Americans, and even their own native British representatives, who quickly show them they can be just as inhumane and evil. Their treatment is appalling, and as I watched some of the scenes and watched their faces as I listened to their words, I felt as one does when you see a picture of a real dead person on TV. That feeling stayed throughout much of the film, and was joined by anger and shame at the US and British Government involvement.
The film does a great job of showing telling the story without too much finger pointing, it's hard not to do when telling one side of a story which seems so obviously biased and negative against the storytellers. However Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross do an excellent job of directing and positioning the story.
My criticism of the film lies in the editing and structure. There were many times through the film where I found myself wondering what had just happened, where they were now, what characters were involved, etc. It almost seemed to be cut too harshly and required quite a few explanatory scenes to let the viewer understand what they were about to see or were seeing.
I found this issue quite a hard one to ignore during my viewing, and it did dull the effect of some moments of the story because we would suddenly realise that a character was missing just as we'd move onto the next section of the story. Yet if we had known earlier the tension would have built and the scenes have more of an impact.
Other than that this film is an extremely strong one, and something that you should most definitely see. Understanding what the US and British Governments are actively engaged in with Guantanamo is upsetting and shaming, and it's this understanding that the people need to being to question whether it is humane and right.