Are Michael Winterbottom and Takashi Miike in some sort of international competition to see who can make the most movies? If so, I think Miike is definitely winning. Still, Winterbottom is giving him a run for his yen, with his take on Tristram Shandy just opening and the debut of his next film at the Berlin Film Festival, where it’s being called the best bet to win the Golden Bear.
That film is sure to set off some debate in America. It’s called The Road to Guantanamo, and it sadly has nothing to do with Hope or Crosby (Bing, not Denise). Although after you read what the film is about, just try to imagine those two brought back to life through the magic of CGI and inserted in this true tale (summary taken from a Hollywood Reporter review):
Just after 9/11, Asif Iqbal (Arfan Usman) sets out [from England] for Pakistan to meet the bride his mother found for him. When his best man calls to say he can’t make the wedding, Asif calls another friend in England. Ruhel (Farhad Harun) agrees to be best man and he flies out with two other friends, Shafiq Rasul (Rizwan Ahmed) and Monir Ali (Waqar Siddiqui).
With some time on their hands, the four men visit a mosque and hear an Iman’s call for men to travel to Afghanistan to give aid to the people. Foolishly, they jump on a bus headed for the border. They arrive in Afghanistan just in time to see the first American bombs hit. At one point during the chaos, they get separated from Monir, who is never heard from again.
The others are captured by Northern Alliance troops and shipped in containers where many die, before being turned over to U.S. forces December 28. They are beaten and tortured by American soldiers when they insist they are not terrorists or fighters. When one interrogator asks in all seriousness for the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, this provokes laughter in the theater that makes you want to weep: Is this what has become of U.S. intelligence?
The three Britons are eventually flown to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where they are held in detention for over two years, systematically tortured and accused of all sort of crimes. A female interrogator shows them bad video footage of an old rally attended by Bin Laden and Mohammed Atta and insists she can see all three sitting in the crowd…
Ironically, a police record back in England clears them. Two of the youths were on parole for minor offenses while Shafiq was working at an electrical superstore at the time they supposedly were in Pakistan cheering Bin Laden. The men were freed in England in March 2004.
The Road to Guantanamo is a mixture of interviews, news footage and drama, and will almost certainly be confused with a documentary and be attacked for being one sided. It sounds very much in the vein of Winterbottom’s astonishing film about refugees, In This World, which mixes the documentary and narrative film techniques so well that you never know what is real and what is staged.
"There are still 500 people in Guantanamo, a lot of them have been there for four years, virtually no-one has received a trial and no-one has been found guilty," said the film maker in an interview on Wednesday. "I kind of assumed the people in it were somehow committed terrorists who were extremely dangerous. The whole argument was they were so dangerous they had to create this extra-legal prison.
"This is a prison set up in Cuba, because to do what they are doing in America would be illegal. They don’t have any of the rights of people in America and at the same time they don’t have rights of prisoners of war either," he added.
Winterbottom was unsure if the film would find distributors in the United States, but said: "These days if you put it on the Internet, and I think it will go on the Internet, then people in America in theory have access to that." I have to imagine that someone will pick this up – it’s going to sell itself through controversy.
On the other side of the coin, the mainstream media has picked up the buzz about Frank Miller’s very long-awaited Holy Terror, Batman, in which the Dark Knight Detective takes on Al Qaeda. Some people seem to be baffled, or even up in arms about this. I don’t get it. Sure, I have very little faith in Frank Miller’s ability to tell a good story these days, but I think terrorism is a fine issue for funny books to tackle. Iron Man got his armor in the Vietnam War, after all. Captain America punched Hitler. It’s not like Osama bin Laden doesn’t deserve to get pummeled by a cartoon character – the guy’s a piece of shit, and it’s impossible to argue with that. All we can hope for is a fleeting moment where Bats realizes that he’s actually a terrorist as well, but I think that may fly against DC Comics’ new police of a shiny happy Batman.