Dirs: Michael Winterbottom, Mat Whitecross. UK. 2006.95mins
Michael Winterbottom's reputation as afiercely enterprising and provocative film-maker gets another boost from TheRoad To Guantanamo, co-directed with Mat Whitecross, his editor on 9 Songs.
Thedigitally-shot film is a docudrama-style reconstruction of the fate of a groupof young British Muslims who went to Afghanistan and ended up imprisoned andinterrogated at the US camps in Cuba. As the title suggests, the film is asmuch about how the young men ended up in Guantanamo Bay as it is about theirhorrific experience there
The result isferociously involving, though the film itself may ultimately be overshadowed bythe media debate that it is clearly designed to provoke. Due to be televised inthe UK the day before it is released on multiple platforms, this unalloyed hotpotato could attract and terrify potential buyers in equal measure.
However, the film'sformal construction makes it highly problematic, as Winterbottom and Whitecrossflout many traditional protocols of the docu-drama form. The film mixesto-camera testimonies from its real-life subjects with imaginativereconstructions using actors, shot in the UK, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
Asif Iqbal, RuhelAhmed and Shafiq Rasul tell their own horrific tale, which begins with Iqbaltravelling to Pakistan to meet his prospective bride. His friends join him inKarachi, where an imam encourages them to go to Afghanistan. They arrive inKandahar just as the US bombing begins, then try to return to Britain but arecaptured and questioned by American and British troops. They are thentransported to Cuba, to be interrogated under horrific conditions, and coercedinto confessing to Al-Qaeda activities. By the time they are released, theviewer emerges feeling bruised, battered and angry.
A considerableproblem, however, is that the kinetically vivid nature of the storytelling andof Marcel Zyskind's photography prevents the viewer from taking the analyticaldistance traditionally regarded as essential to political documentary.Especially given that the film will make its UK debut on television, it wouldbe very easy for viewers to regard it as essentially factual reportage, ratherthan a hybrid narrative construction.
The naturalismfalters at certain points, notably in the characterisation of the American andBritish interrogators
Screen West Midlands