The Mix

Guantanamo: the film and the play

An interesing genre that emerges when what we get from the news just doesn't cut it.
The BBC reports that three actors were detained and questioned by the police at a London airport. Not enormously interesting except for the fact that they were just returning from the Berlin Film Festival where the film they were in, "The Road to Guantanamo," just won a Silver Bear award. (One of the detained actors was asked "if he intended to make any more 'political' films.")

The film recounts the story of the "Tipton Three" -- three innocent British men imprisoned and abused in Guantanamo for over two years. While the reviews for the film (which has yet to be released in the U.S.) have been largely positive, they focus almost entirely on the subject material, recounting the incredible impact of the story and the portrayal of the treatment of Guantanamo prisoners. The blending of interviews, news footage, and re-enactments has brought some negative comments -- alleging that it will be confused with a more conventional documentary and perhaps appears too one-sided.

But it is precisely this "tough, compelling, must-see" documentary quality that is being lauded because it tells a story and gives a face to an issue otherwise sterilized by the media. The reviewers' focus is less on artistry and more on the issues raised in the film. The standing ovation the film received in Berlin attests to a hunger for information on Guantanamo. A need to know, to drag it from the shadows.

Dahlia Lithwick from Slate writes,
Guantanamo is a not-place. It's neither America nor Cuba. It is peopled by people without names who face no charges. Non-people facing non-trials to defend non-charges are not a story. They are a headache. No wonder the prisoners went on hunger strikes. Not-eating, ironically enough, is the only way they could try to become real to us.
Films like "The Road to Guantanamo" also make it real. And attest to the fact that many people want light shed on this liminalized atrocity. A similar Gitmo news-into-performance preceded this film.

A play entitled "Honor Bound to Defend Freedom" -- based entirely on testimony by Gitmo detainees, along with their lawyers and families -- has been touring throughout the United States for well over a year. When I attended a performance in San Francisco, I was struck by the audiences attention throughout its lengthy two acts. As I wrote last March, "Despite the fact that there was hardly any physical movement in the whole play, and very little dialogue, everyone appeared thoroughly engrossed -- I had never heard so few coughs and seat-shifts in an auditorium."

The most important thing the world can do is pay attention to the atrocity and illegality -- and if audience response is any measure of this attention -- Guantanamo is still very much on the radar screen.

The actors detained in London were eventually released. One of the films' producers called the incident "outrageous." Ironically, the three detained were the actors who portray the Tipton Three in the film. But perhaps more striking is that the actors were guilty of the very thing for which the Tipton three were detained in Guantanamo: absolutely nothing.

Contact the Bill of Rights Defense Committee to set up a reading of Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom in your community.
Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an editorial fellow at AlterNet.