I Am Gitmo Image

I Am Gitmo

By Perry Norton | April 26, 2024

For what appears to be a micro-budget movie, I am Gitmo does a great deal with its two-hour-plus running time. The story globe trots from a quiet Afghan village to Bagram, then on to Guantanamo Bay, and it does this with some drama and imagination. It also works hard to balance two startlingly opposing strands, those of a torturer and his prisoner.

The story begins with school teacher Gamel (Sammy Sheik) having dinner with his family at home in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He is picked up by the police, seemingly after being betrayed by a neighbor for a $500 bounty.

Straight away, these early sequences are concerning as the Afghani security services who turn up to beat and imprison him are very small yet wear very large overalls. As a viewer, this instantly presents the quandary that you honestly don’t know whether it’s the film’s producers or the Afghani police who have serious trouble getting hold of uniforms. It occasionally looks like a very violent, downbeat Stop Making Sense!

In any event, it transpires that Gamel’s Mujahideen history during Soviet occupation has  ‘intelligence’ services concerned his ties remain within the Bin Laden Al Qaeda that supplanted the Mujahideen. Or so they say. The truth is they give every impression of just punching blind in the panic after 9/11.

“…passed from brute to brute, submitted to a machine that doesn’t know what its doing or how to do it…”

So begins his journey. He is passed from brute to brute, submitted to a machine that doesn’t know what its doing or how to do it. Fatally, Al Qaeda training materials uncovered soon before in the U.K had convinced the coalition’s interrogation machine that all enemy combatants would lie and allege torture. This latter strategy appears to have kicked up a storm of human rights abuses. Tortured men were broken down into false confessions, further torture, more confessions, etc. And that is the action focused on here, as this film tells the tale of a fictionalized character who stoically regards the mechanisms that have stolen the world away from him.

The writer/director for I am Gitmo, Philippe Diaz, chose his topic well and has clearly taken the time to absorb the record on extraordinary rendition. Frustratingly, the narrative is not tied to a specific story, simply claiming that the film is ‘based on true events.’ That gives things a slippery quality, and while the dialogue is a conduit for a wealth of interesting and troubling detail on the real camp and its interrogations, it mostly just doesn’t have too much sizzle as drama.

Nonetheless, this is an important inspection of the craziness of rendition, and it leaves one at a loss as to why Hollywood has not given this topic more attention. The detentions – which are ongoing – opened a new psychic front in the war on terror, one where overnight every Muslim had their security threatened no matter their location. We saw that terrible misfire ricochet back in the foul sarcasm of ISIS’s orange jumpsuits, and it feels like the dramatic exploration that has been lacking is being ably provided here. It also does so from the standpoint of a character who knows regional and Islamist political thought, and who can articulate well a now apparently relentless disappointment within the middle eastern perspective.

Perhaps the greatest of I am Gitmo’s virtues is that it provides a male lead who is proudly Arab and proudly Muslim. An even-tempered, strong man who, despite the wreck the interrogators make of him, seems almost amused by the trouble they set themselves. Phillipe gives us a character and a plight that will be recognized and feared by many Muslims; that of religious associations being mistaken as grounds for arrest.

The two leads work well. Sammy Sheik has a nice gravity and foxy wits as Gamel. As his interrogator John Anderson, Eric Pierpoint exudes a humanity and weary concern around the judicial mutilation he is tasked with managing.

I am Gitmo puts a great deal of the sketchy record from Guantanamo on full view here, and it deserves applause for doing so.

I am Gitmo (2024)

Directed and Written: Philippe Diaz

Starring: Sammy Sheik, Eric Pierpoint, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

I am Gitmo Image

"…It occasionally looks like a very violent, downbeat Stop Making Sense!..."

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  1. Montgomery J Granger says:

    This is “art,” and therefore has license to invent. There are some stories about Gitmo that are real, however. Including mine: Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay, and the short (10 min.) documentary YouTube film, Heroes of GITMO, based on the book of real events. Not art. That said, just under 800 unlawful combatant Islamists were taken to Gitmo, and over 740 have been released, and none beheaded, executed, blown up, hacked to death, dragged naked and lifeless through the streets, drowned or burned alive. All things our enemies have done to us and/or our allies. Gitmo is the finest military detention facility on earth. There is no moral comparison between Gitmo and how our enemies treat their captives.

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