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Spurlock vs Osama - Interview

Author: Gaylor Flynn
Monday, 31 March 2008
3D’s Gaynor Flynn caught up with Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock at the recent Sundance Film Festival to discuss his latest documentary, Where On Earth Is Osama Bin Laden-

It was almost death by burger in Super Size Me, now it was almost death by bombing – well it could have been. In his latest film, Morgan Spurlock decides he wants to make the world a better place by capturing Osama bin Laden. He’s about to become a father for the first time, hence the altruism. He decides he’s capable of this act because if he’s learned anything from action flicks over the years it’s that “complicated world problems are best solved by one lonely guy”. And so off he goes.

Of course he never even comes close to finding him. But what saves Spurlock’s antics from being labelled a prank is that Spurlock’s film does come up with the goods. Not bin Laden, but it does shine a light on ordinary people’s lives in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, even Saudi Arabia, and the influence bin Laden, Iraq and the War on Terror has on everyone. He’s juvenile at times (like when he yells “yoo hoo Osama, where are you-” into the hills of Tora Bora), but it’s also refreshing to hear alternative voices.

How did you go about getting into all these countries that aren’t easy to get into-
Stacey Altman, our producer, is really smart and very connected, started reaching out to a lot of journalistic organisations and a lot of different groups who help journalists get visas. So through all those people they enabled us to be able to get in and have access. We even got access to Saudi Arabia and nobody ever gets into Saudi Arabia. And we were always denied access to Pakistan. They would never let us in. We applied for our visa, applied for our visa and they would never let us in and finally we were in Afghanistan and we had somebody go to the Pakistani embassy in Kabul and bribe an official so basically for $2,000 we got our visas into Pakistan. That was the only way we got in.

The film is book-ended with your wife and pending child. Why did you decide to use that structure-
Once we found out my wife was pregnant, it was about two months into pre production, but it changes the way you look at things. The movie when we first started was about ‘where is this guy, and what kind of world creates a guy like this-’ It really hit home for me – what kind of world am I about to bring my kid into- And we were filming so much…we were filming me with Alex (Morgan’s wife) and me getting ready to go overseas. You never know how it’s going to shape up but I’m a big believer in a personal journey. You know it was a personal journey that happened in Super Size Me, so I wanted that to come across in this movie as well.

Did you think about not going once you learned your wife was pregnant-
We thought about not doing the project at all. Alex and I talked about it a lot and for me I felt it was an important thing that I really had to do. For me I think when you make a movie you have to make films you’re so passionate about that if you don’t do it then you’re going to die. So I had to do this film, I had to tell this story. She just said be back for the birth. And I also promised her that I wouldn’t go to Iraq. I felt we didn’t need to go there because we’d heard that story. We see it every day on the news. I felt Afghanistan was a much better story to link to Osama bin Laden and link to this journey and make it all fit.

Do you think this film can make an impact on what Americans do come voting time-
You know, that’s a great question. If this movie can encourage people to go out and vote that’s great considering half of the people who have the ability to vote don’t. If this film stirs up some issues about a foreign policy debate and what our role is in the world and what our role is on the War on Terror and how we deal with people who are threats to our country, I think that would be great – but who knows-

What did you hope to achieve with this film-
When I made Super Size Me I didn’t go out and say ‘I’m going to change the world, I’m going to change corporate America and make them change their policy’. What I liked about Super Size Me was that it was a chance to deal with a really serious issue in a fun way. It’s the same thing I thought about this one.
It’s a great way to deal with this world we live in and question the War on Terror and question what creates an Osama bin Laden to begin with and also go on a fun journey. Now when it’s all said and done and as people are watching the movie, they’re saying ‘Well, what I got out of the movie is that we never get to see the people in this movie on television’. So if this film can start to present a view of those people over there that we’re supposed to be scared of that are threats, that are supposedly against us, if we can paint them in a light that’s favourable then maybe things can start to change.

What kind of personal danger were you in-
[Laughs] A lot. There were times when anything can happen, you just never know. We had a field producer who was a front line reporter, he shoots in war zones and he shoots in really dangerous parts of the world and so we hired him to kind of guide us through Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia…places where there could be potential problems. We also had a security advisor who came along and would tell us, ‘We need to go’. Like these guys jobs is that they know when the shit is about to hit the fan. We would do things like leave a driver with the car at all times just so there would be no chance of somebody planting a bomb. So there’s a tremendous amount of fear that comes with being in an area like that.

When were you the most scared-
When I was embedded with the military in Afghanistan. It’s incredibly frightening because you feel safe and you feel protected because you’re surrounded by guys with guns, but at the same time, you’re surrounded by a target. So you’re in an armoured vehicle and these guys all have weapons, but that’s not going to stop an

Some people might accuse you of being misleading seeing the film is not really about the search for bin Laden. Do you agree-
I think the film is still about the search for Osama bin Laden. Because during the search for Osama is when you start to realise he’s like Kaizer Soze, he’s everywhere and he’s nowhere. Maybe I should have looked in Kevin Spacey’s house. But you begin to see it’s this influence, this ideology and even the fear of that ideology that has continued to be played back and forth and has gained strength. I think that comes out in the movie.

So where is he-
I think he’s still in the mountains of Pakistan. I don’t think he’s far from where we were at the border.
Do you plan to continue to put your physical at risk in order to make films-

My wife says no. She said that I’ve got to make a movie about flowers or fish or something.

WHEN: In cinemas 10 April