Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/24/07 w/ Additional Edits.
Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is a land own by the U.S. for militaristic purposes. The base includes a military prison which often detains refugees in other countries. Then around the time of 9/11 and its aftermath, it became a place for captives in relation to terrorism. The reports surrounding Guantanamo and its practices have become controversial for the past several years. Even as those accused of terrorist acts would find themselves imprisoned in Guantanamo and abused by American soldiers. The controversy surrounding Guantanamo has attracted the attention of British film director Michael Winterbottom where in early 2006, he caused controversy with his docu-drama The Road to Guantanamo.
Directed by Winterbottom along with co-director Mat Whitecross, the film is about three British men of Islamic descent being accused of terrorists acts as they're taken to Guantanamo. Shot in both dramatic style and as a documentary in interviewing the three men from the Tipton area. The Road to Guantanamo is a harrowing film from Michael Winterbottom and company.
It's late 2001 as Asif Iqbal (Afran Usman), is leaving for Pakistan to be married. Joining him later are three of his friends, Ruhal Ahmed (Fahad Harun), Shafig Rasul (Riz Ahmed), and Monir (Waqar Siddiqui). Deciding to go to Afghanistan to learn about the growing revolt from Islamic groups over what had just happened in 9/11. Along the way, they find themselves in Kandahar and later in Kabul where Monir is lost. While in Afghanistan, war is already going on as the three men see bombings all over places like Kabul. Eventually, a group of people are captured by none other than the Northern Alliance. Following the capture and shootings, they're suddenly handed over to the American military. Iqbal, Ahmed, and Rasul are interrogated as they're taken to prison camps where they're claimed to be members of Al-Qaeda.
In reality, they're actually guys from Tipton in Birmingham, England with no connections to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban (it was later revealed, after the film was released, that Ahmed took part in Islamic military training). They're beaten and tortured as American military personnel and a British officer continue the interrogations getting nothing. In February 2002, they would be sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. A year in a cell, they're interrogated and imprisoned in the very inhumane prison as they're later transferred to another prison. The interrogations continue as does the tortures but the three men remain strong. Finally in 2004, they were released while refusing to sign anything that claims their affiliations with terrorism.
While Winterbottom and Whitecross would admit to soften the kind of brutality that goes on in Guantanamo and by the U.S. military. What was suggested turns out to be very brutal. In reality, the film is really about three men who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. While a large portion of the film is shot in the actual locations of Pakistan and Afghanistan while the Guantanamo sequences were shot in Iran. The film has a verite style that plays true to its realism while what was told from the real-life Tipton Three unveils the brutality that goes on in that prison. The result is a film that is very uncomfortable in the middle of the film's second half, notably what goes on in the Guantanamo scenes.
While Winterbottom nor Whitecross is trying to say anything about the politics of those times, especially in the U.S. and U.K. Watching the footage will make anyone question about why things are so bad from a political point of view. While the film is done largely in a documentary style with interviews with the real Tipton Three. The performances of the actors portraying them were dead-on in that improvisational, verite style. Both Winterbottom and Whitecross also do the editing of the film to bring an intensity and horror to convey the emotion of the characters and their journey. Even as they use archive footage and news report over what was going on in Guantanamo with images of George W. Bush and now former British prime minister Tony Blair. Overall, for a film with a 95-minute running time that looks and feels like a documentary, it's one that remains haunting while question how people in question for terrorism depending on their actions are treated.
Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind brings a realism to his doc-style camera work by shooting a lot of the dramatic footage with digital camera to bring that verite style to play. Production designer Mark Digby creates a very brutal look to the prison of Guantanamo by imagining what the prisons would've looked like and neither the chain-fence prison nor a standardize prison look pretty. Sound designer Joakim Sundstrom and recordist Stuart Wilson create a wonderful yet brutal atmosphere to the surroundings of the locations the actors are in. Finally, there's the ominous film score of Harry Escott and Molly Nyman that conveys the drama with its high-dense orchestral arrangements and piano-laden score.
While it's a film that will not be easy to watch, The Road to Guantanamo is a powerful, harrowing film from Michael Winterbottom and his dedicated film team. Fans of Winterbottom will no doubt consider this one of his finest while anyone who wants to know any idea about the brutality of Guantanamo should see this regardless of any stance in their political feelings. In the end, The Road to Guantanamo is a must-see docu-drama from Michael Winterbottom
Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - I Want You - (With or Without You (1998 film)) - Wonderland (1999 film) - The Claim - 24 Hour Party People - In This World - Code 46 - 9 Songs - Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story - A Mighty Heart - Genova - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) - The Killer Inside Me - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy) - (The Face of an Angel)
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