Mike Davies goes looking for Osama with Morgan Spurlock.
Four years ago, West Virginian documentary maker Morgan Spurlock took on McDonalds with Super Size Me, using himself as a guinea pig to demonstrate the adverse effects of too much fast food. Although the company claimed the two were unrelated, they subsequently ditched their Supersize products and introduced more 'healthy' options.
So, if he could dent the Golden Arches, perhaps he could succeed where the US military and CIA had failed for the past seven years and track down Osama Bin Laden. After all, what man, faced with impending fatherhood, wouldn't want to make the world alittle safer for his unborn child?
That's the set up Spurlock presents in the opening of Where In The World is Osama Bin Laden? However, he now admits that preproduction on a documentary about the West's inability to capture the elusive terrorist was already underway when he learned his wife, Alex, was pregnant. Suddenly, it became a more personal mission and, despite understandable reservations, she gave him her blessing to go ahead.
Whether Spurlock ever really harboured hopes of actually finding Bin Laden is debatable, but what he did want to do was to go to the Middle East and talk to ordinary Muslims.
"When we found out Alex was pregnant, I said, 'I want to meet families, I want to meet people who are like me; people who have kids or have kids on the way'. Once we met that first family in Egypt, I said, 'We have to do this in every country that we go to. We have to find people like this.'
"Of course we interviewed politicians and people within the military, and there's alot of great stuff there, but for me, the story is real people; the people you don't get to see on the news, or read about in the newspaper. We get very much one side, one version, one image of that side of the world, and it's people who hate us and want to destroy America. Then that two-minute sound bite on is over and we move on. With this film, we've given real people a voice, and they paint a very different picture of what the majority over there think about."
Spurlock admits that he went with preconceived notions, expecting people to be reluctant to open up to him about their view on the world and on America and Americans. Instead he found himself welcomed into homes and invited to join meals as his interviewees openly talked about their feelings about America and Americans. Spurlock admits to having his eyes opened as to other people's perceptions of his country.
"It really hit home on a different level for me, sitting down and talking to people rather than seeing people yell about it on TV. When you're there, at a table or you're in someone's house and they're telling you face-to-face and you can't change the channel it gives you a completely new perspective."
What consistently comes across in the interviews is that, while his subjects may passionately disagree with and oppose US foreign policy, they aren't anti-America or Americans per se.
One Saudi Arabian subject, who hardly represented the voice of moderation as he talked about setting the oil refineries on fire, delivered an unexpected surprise.
"That's an incredible interview," agrees Spurlock. "The guy talks about all of his friends, who go off and wage Jihad, and then there's afantastic line which unfortunately we had to cut out of the film, where Isay to him, 'Well why haven't you gone to wage Jihad?' And he says, 'At the end of the day, I believe that America will change or I hope that America will change'. I think there's a tremendous amount of hope and optimism in the film."
As the interviews mounted up, what Spurlock says also came as something of a shock was the way people were prepared to denounce Bin Laden on camera.
"I think that's a great thing to hear," he agrees vigorously. "That other people's lives, not just American's lives, were affected by Osama Bin Laden. To hear people in Muslim countries talk about how they have complete disdain for him, and don't follow him or put him on a pedestal, that is important. We have a very monolithic image of Islam in the U.S. and what I think the film does very well is to show how many different kinds of peoples and cultures there are represented within this religion. How the Islam of Egypt is different from the Islam of Morocco, and different again in the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan."
At the end of the day, the documentary may not have teeth, but it does have an optimism and a faith, however naive, in the voice of the common people. It just needs to make itself heard louder than the voice of extremism.
"I think there is optimism up to a point," he says guardedly. "You always have to hope that things will be better, but you never know. There needs to be a dialogue discussion about where we go from here. This film could have so easily jumped on a Bash Bush bandwagon, talked about how terrible things are and will continue to be. But I personally think we need to be a little bit more forward thinking.'"
Does he feel then that this documentary is capable of inspiring debate and having a similar impact to that of Super Size Me, to encourage people to look at the choices they make?
"I think if it can begin a dialogue that would be fantastic," he says enthusiastically.
"There was this woman who took her 14-year-old son to see the movie. She's a news hound, smart, reads constantly, consumes the media and knows what's going on around the world.
"He plays in a rock band with all his friends, loves video games, and has no clue what's going on in the outside world. After they saw the film together, she told me that she and her son had their first real discussion about politics and world events. If this film can do things like that, and can continue to inspire like that, it will be a success beyond anything I could have hoped for."