PARK CITY, Utah &
When film provocateur Morgan Spurlock premiered his documentary, "Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?," before a capacity audience here at the Sundance Film Festival, expectations were, honestly, not that high among.
Yes, the Internet was "buzzing" about hints dropped (planted) by his cameraman that Spurlock had found "the holy grail." Sure, the New York Daily News reported that Spurlock made distributors at the Berlin International Film Festival sign "a strict non-disclosure agreement that Al Qaeda would have envied." And true, he had brought McDonald's to task in his 2004 debut film, "Super Size Me," famous for Spurlock, 37, a kind of Michael Moore for the gamer set, living on nothing but Mickey D's fare for a month.
But flipping burgers is one thing. Finding the Big O is another.
We do not believe we are spoiling the ending to reveal that Spurlock does not, as he teases, throw a net over Osama bin Laden. Because if he had found Osama, you probably would have heard the news. He does not even come close. Wherever the evil mastermind may be, he is safe from Spurlock.
The film, which was bought by the Weinstein Co., and is scheduled for release in April, sports a parody movie poster with Spurlock posed as Indiana Jones. On his self-described "journey of discovery," the filmmaker stops in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Morocco, Jordan, Afghanistan and finally Pakistan, where he learns that most people just want to live normal, peaceful lives. He also gets to fire a grenade launcher. "Awesome," he says. The film ends with the song "Why Can't We Be Friends?" from the band War.
In the climactic scene, Spurlock dons his flak jacket, muses grimly on the dangers ahead and travels to the border of Waziristan, the semi-autonomous tribal area where many experts suspect OBL may be hiding/residing &
and then he stops. There is a sign reading: "Foreigners are not allowed." Darn it. "Someone should go after him," Spurlock says in the movie. "But not me."
After the Sundance screening, where the film won respectable but not wild applause, an audience member asked Spurlock if he ever truly intended to go all the way. "The whole point of the movie was to find Osama bin Laden," Spurlock says. "I got right to the border." But the audience had it right: Indiana Jones goes into the Temple of Doom. He doesn't go home.
As the reviewer Rav on the fanboy site Ain't It Cool News, put it: "This movie is ... retarded. Maybe it would feel less retarded if it wasn't for all those rumors of him actually finding and interviewing bin Laden. Or maybe it would come off less stupid if he had just titled it 'Super Size Me 2: Middle East Vacation' cause that is more accurate as to what it really is."
The next day, Spurlock sits down for a few questions about the documentary. He is friendly, enthusiastic, defensive, cunning. In the movie, the filmmaker travels to Fez, Cairo, Amman and Jerusalem, which are not exactly scary places. In Israel, he goes to the border of the Gaza Strip, but does not enter. Why?
"Oh, you can't get into Gaza," he says. But don't news correspondents go there all the time? "It would have been nice to go into Gaza and speak to some people there, but it would have been incredibly dangerous," Spurlock says.
But if bin Laden and al-Qaida are anything, are they not dangerous? The movie begins with Spurlock undergoing hostile-environment training (how to duck from a grenade; survive kidnapping; dress a head wound), though the roughest treatment he got was from an elderly Hasidic man in Jerusalem, who shoves him and tells him to go home.
"I didn't feel like I was in danger in Fez or Casablanca," Spurlock says. "But you can't deny the fact that since 2003 there have been suicide bombs that killed over 50 people. There is the potential to be killed even in Morocco by homegrown terrorist cells."
He continues: "When we were at the Gaza border, the Israeli tanks were firing on Gaza, and from Gaza they were shooting Kassam rockets out. That was pretty harrowing. I don't think we hype the danger factor when they're firing Kassam rockets at a town a kilometer away. I think that's real violence."
The film begins with the news that Spurlock's wife is pregnant (though he had been working on the project for months at that point) and Spurlock wonders aloud how he can bring up his baby in such a world as ours. " the time my kid is out of diapers," he asks, "will everyone be a terrorist?" That's the setup. While in Afghanistan, there is a scene of lonely Spurlock wishing he could end his perilous journey of discovery. "Here I am in Afghanistan, stuck under a mosquito net and missing it all," he narrates, meaning his wife and their baby on the way.
We ask Spurlock: Unlike a U.S. soldier, he could just leave whenever he wants, correct? "It's my own fault," he agrees. "There's nobody to blame but me. ... What I'm saying is I think the film is important, but not near as important as getting home to make sure I'm there when my baby is born." To move the narrative along and provide information in a form that is easily digestible, the Spurlock documentary features al-Qaida leaders on sports trading cards and video game sequences of a bin Laden avatar dancing (to MC Hammer). Why? "I wanted to try to use something that speaks to this generation, my generation," Spurlock says. "I was part of the video game revolution. I grew up playing the Atari 2600 when it came out. That's part of my upbringing. I wanted to bring in those elements to forward our story, to move the narrative forward. And I think they work." In Saudi Arabia, Spurlock visits a security guard at Bin Laden Aviation and asks him: Where's Osama? In Pakistan, the shtick is to wander around with a map, asking people where he might be. In Afghanistan, Spurlock visits the caves of Tora Bora, but he doesn't find anything but rocks. He does a military embed with U.S. forces on the Afghan-Pakistan border, where they witness a lone Taliban fighter being pursued and then shot by Afghan forces.
Does he feel he failed in his quest? "I personally felt that I had learned so much along the way," Spurlock says. "We had gotten so many great points of view about what creates an Osama bin Laden. When we got to the border, and you can't hear it in the film, but we can hear gunshots and something exploded. That makes me think I don't need to be in there. I don't need to go. To me, getting to the border was enough."
PARK CITY, Utah &