The Road to Guantanamo (2006)
The versatile Michael Winterbottom delivered this unflinching and shocking documentary / drama as a UK Channel 4 production that was simultaneously released on DVD and in cinemas. It is the true account of the 'Tipton Three', three young British men of Pakistani origin who travelled to Pakistan shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to arrange for one of them to get married. From Pakistan they rather naively entered Afghanistan to 'help out', and wound up getting captured by Afghan forces and held as terrorists. After a harrowing ordeal they were handed over to US forces, who imprisoned and interrogated them before shipping them off to the notorious prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they were held for several years before being released without charge. During their imprisonment they were repeatedly interrogated and tortured.
Winterbottom cuts back and forth between interviews with the actual men involved as they recount their tale together with a dramatised recreation of their ordeal. It is, frankly, shocking stuff, and while the story is told purely from one point of view the details provided have a ring of truth to them, and this coupled with corroborative knowledge and reports from the real world leave one with little doubt as to the veracity of what is shown. 'The Road to Guantanamo' is an even handed presentation that doesn't try to manipulate the audience's emotions; it merely depicts with a cool detachment because what is on screen speaks for itself and is affecting enough on its own. The foolishness and inhumaneness of what was done (and is still being done) is horrifying, and while much of these raw facts can be gathered without watching 'The Road to Guantanamo', seeing it recreated in this manner really does have a visceral and indelible impact.
Not only does the film drive home the point that this sort of treatment is unconscionable, it highlights how ineffective and unjustifiable it is from a pragmatic point of view - the fact that these people (amongst many others) were released without charge proves that the imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay is inherently unjust and ineffective. What happened to innocent until proven guilty, what happened to due process? Also, just how incompetent are these people to ignore the available facts and evidence for years before determining the innocence of their prisoners?
The subject matter and story should be compelling no matter how they are presented, but Winterbottom tells the story well. The editing and pacing of the film is superb from start to finish, with salient facts and perspectives being doled out through the interviews and inter-cut with the dramatisation. It moves at a brisk pace, never lingering for too long in one place (or one scenario, when it comes to the Guantanamo imprisonment), and yet provides plenty of details while remaining lucid and comprehensible throughout. The dramatised segments have a genuine documentary feel to them and never ring false or draw you out of proceedings. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen such a bleak and utterly hopeless and terrifying depiction of imprisonment in a film; I guess reality really is more horrific than fiction. The interrogations and torture are light compared to some of the overblown stuff we're used to in TV and movies these days, and yet are more frightening due to the mechanical and undramatic simplicity with which they are carried out. It's atmospheric and believable stuff, helped along by the fact that many scenes were shot in actual locations or use accurate recreations.
Watching 'The Road to Guantanamo' is an eye opening and educational experience, and while it won't bring new facts to light for those who have been keeping track, it'll certainly stir the emotions of those who are less well informed and apathetic to the whole Guantanamo situation (and indeed, similar such situations throughout the world where human rights are violated without compunction). And even for those in the know, it makes for a compelling and gut wrenching experience that makes the story of the 'Tipton Three' unforgettable. A must see for everybody and a stern reminder that, as one of the men says, "the world's not a nice place".