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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006, 11:26 GMT
Guantanamo film re-opens debate
By Damien McGuinness
in Berlin

Michael Winterbottom and the film's actors
Director Michael Winterbottom (second right) said the film is not anti-American

One of the most eagerly awaited films at this year's Berlin Film Festival, The Road To Guantanamo by British director Michael Winterbottom, is premiered in the German capital on Wednesday.

Judging from the attention it has already attracted here, the film looks set to re-ignite the whole debate about the Guantanamo Bay American detention camp in Cuba.

There aren't many films which create a buzz at Berlin Film Festival before being shown.

It was no surprise that Tuesday's press screening of The Road To Guantanamo filled to capacity as soon as it opened its doors.

'Shocking'

The film tells the story of the three British Muslims, from Tipton in the Midlands, who went to Pakistan to arrange a wedding, travelled to Afghanistan and were transported to Guantanamo Bay.

They were held there without trial for more than two years before charges were dropped and they were released in March 2004.

Dramatised scenes, charting their journey, are interspersed with interviews with the men themselves, who explain what happened to them and how they felt.

A scene from The Road To Guantanamo
The film depicts the Tipton Three's treatment at the detention camp

"I don't think the film is anti-American because there are plenty of Americans who are against Guantanamo Bay too," says Michael Winterbottom.

"But the very fact that this camp exists is shocking.

"We are telling the story of these three people so you can imagine yourself what it is like to be in a situation where your rights are taken away from you, you have no contact with your family and no idea when you will be released," he adds.

Winterbottom first came up with the idea of making the film when he met Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhal Ahmed two months after they had been released.

He interviewed the men, and turned the resulting 600 pages of transcript into a 95-minute feature.

"If someone had said five years ago that the US would set up a camp, in Cuba of all places, to hold people for four years without trial or charges, then you would have thought he was crazy.

'Hard to sleep'

"But the problem is, people have got used to it."

Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed came to Berlin and said they were pleased with the film.

"When you are first released it's hard to sleep," says Shafiq Rasul.

"You keep hearing soldiers banging on the cells and you wake up sweating and thinking of soldiers and then you realise you're back home. But as time goes on, you have to move on and live your life."

Michael Winterbottom
I don't think the film is anti-American because there are plenty of Americans who are against Guantanamo Bay too
Film director Michael Winterbottom

Winterbottom is no newcomer to Berlin. In 2003 he won the festival's top prize, the Golden Bear, for the documentary-style drama In This World, which followed two Afghan asylum seekers on their journey to the UK .

But despite getting a lot of attention for the subject matter, not everyone is so impressed with the film itself.

"I don't really know what the point of it is, as it doesn't tell you anything new," said Anne Troester, film critic for the Berlin-based magazine The Ex-Berliner.

"It seemed very black and white, like all the Americans are bad and all the Muslim guys are good.

"If you are an American who doesn't know the facts about Guantanamo Bay, you're just going to end up walking out because you'll feel alienated," she says.

But Luke Harding, Berlin correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, said: "I thought the film was brilliant. You could really feel empathy for them."

Judging from the amount of interest already generated at Berlin, distribution for the film is likely to be widespread.

Winterbottom plans to release the film simultaneously online and on DVD, and in March it will be shown on Channel 4 television in the UK.


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