"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Know Your Enemy

This week it was revealed that documentary film-maker Sean Langan had been released by Taliban kidnappers after a three month captivity. This can only be welcomed- I wouldn’t wish this experience (kidnapping, constant threat of death and mock executions) on my worst enemy.

Sean Langan first came to my attention with his series Langan Behind The Lines featuring episodes with titles like Taking Tea With The Taliban: the series was filmed and shown in early 2001, pre-9/11. These programmes, which seemed to give Langan unusually free access to, amongst others, the camera-shy Taliban, continually portrayed the militants, warlords and fundamentalists he met across Iran, Iraq, the Gaza Strip and Afghanistan as lovable, friendly chaps who were only too willing to break bread with him and invite him into their homes. I couldn’t help feeling very uncomfortable watching their portrayal in these and his subsequent programmes: could these lovable people have been the self-same who hold mass-executions in their football stadium, bulldoze walls onto homosexuals and stone to death adulterous women?

I was not the only one to feel uncomfortable; reporter Saira Shah was so angered by these programmes that she went undercover in Afghanistan and filmed the more disturbing distaff side to Langan’s all-too-cosy portrayals- ‘Beneath The Veil’, I think it was called and it was broadcast a few months after Langan’s, just before 9/11. It completely undermined the vision of Langan’s films and stripped them of any illusion and made them seem deeply disingenuous.

I can’t help admiring Langan’s bravery- I have no deep yearning to go into active warzones- but I do find his apparently deliberately contrary version of the scary types he meets to be somewhat disturbing… this is the equivalent of his meeting Hitler and admitting that, while he may have been a bit mean to the Jews, on the other hand he did like his dog and threw an excellent dinner party. When I heard of his release, and therefore his kidnapping, I tried hard to suppress a grim smile and thoughts of ‘chickens roosting’. I can’t help thinking its best not to put your head in the tiger’s mouth too many times because at some point the tiger may grow tired of playing along with the game.

No comments: