Blurring the boundary between reality and fiction, Perestroika retraces a journey made exactly 20 years previously, in an attempt to come to terms with the death of a close friend. Hypnotic and haunting imagery and evocative soundscapes draw the viewer into a mysterious space of reflection, caught between past and present. The journey itself — which interweaves footage from the original trip — becomes a metaphor for the process of remembering and reexperiencing.
It’s been almost five years since documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock denounced McDonald’s and had the world rejecting the almighty M. Now, the director of ‘Supersize me’ turns his attention away from the French fry to the Middle East and the documentary filmmaker has just one question: Where in the world is Osma Bin Laden?’
Q: So where is Osama Bin Laden?
A: He’s up in my hotel room. He’s just hanging out getting room service. I think he’s still in the mountains of Waziristan or somewhere in that area. When we got to the end of our trip, when we were in Pakistan, people were pointing to a direction up in those mountains that I think, by the time we got to the border, was probably about 50-75 miles away. Whether he’s still there or has moved on to somewhere else, because I think he’s mobile within that area personally. Who knows? I think he’s still there, somewhere.
Q: Did you have an ending for if you’d caught him?
A: Where if we caught him, we had a big party and I get a big $25 million Tiger Woods golf check? We talked about it, Danny Marracino and myself, what would happen if we actually would get to find him or get to speak to him. A lot of people have asked what would you have said to him or what would you have asked him? I think the biggest thing for me would have been, I would have liked to have heard from him, “How does it end? How does this stop? How can the killing of innocent people end? How can all the hatred end? How can it just get to the point where there’s peace and security for everybody?” And maybe gotten a real answer. Maybe something real would have come out of that, with actual steps. Or, we might have just gotten a whole lot of crazy. Who knows? We would have gotten an answer. That would have been interesting.
Q: Where did the idea for the project come from?
A: It was 2005 when we first started talking about what my next movie would be. We’d just finished shooting the first season of 30 Days. Supersize Me did something that none of us anticipated which was play in about 75 countries around the world. It kind of went so beyond our borders. It was something I didn’t anticipate and the way that it did that made me realize that my next movie I wanted to be something that dealt with something that was much more of a global issue, on a global scale and wasn’t just an American issue, of which this was. I live in New York City so this question is constantly out there. I was there on 9/11 so this is something that’s brought up consistently. Bush had just been elected to his second term and Osama had released a tape and suddenly the tape was everywhere. It was on every news channel, every radio station, people were talking about him again. He was completely ubiquitous. Newscasters were like, “Where is Osama? Where is he? Why haven’t we found him? Why haven’t we brought this man to justice? Where in the world is Osama Bin Laden?” And I said, “That’s a great question. I’d like to know that as well.” We started just formulating how would we even make a movie like this. How would we start going about trying to find those answers or tackle this topic? We raised a little bit of money to do some preproduction on the movie from a guy named Adam Dell. I was out one night and he said, “I just met with your lawyer about a movie that I’d like to make. I’d like to try and go find Osama Bin Laden.” I said, “You and I should sit down and talk immediately.” So he helped us raise the first bit of seed money just to even formulate an idea around this film. About two months into that process was when we found out Alex was pregnant. At that point, the film took a real shift for me personally. It really went away from just being where in the world is Osama Bin Laden and what kind of world creates an Osama Bin Laden to also, what kind of world am I about to bring a kid into? I think that kind of shift made it much more personal for me and I think ultimately made the journey that we went on and the people that we went to talk to in addition to politicians and people in the military, ultimately made the film better.
Q: How much of an eye opener was it to see how America is perceived?
A: I think they don’t like America’s foreign policy as much as they used to. I think people still have a tremendous amount of hope in what America means and what America is. America is a dream and an ideology and a hope that things can always be better. That’s how a lot of people see the United States still. I think that a lot of that has been shattered over the course of, for some people it’s been five years, some it’s been 10-15 years, but as you heard consistently and we spoke to people consistently, it was, “We don’t hate the American people but we hate what’s happened to the American government and what’s transpired.” I think we’re still taught that people hate us and it’s this “They hate us,” them, those people and everybody’s grouped into this one thing. Islam is a monolithic thing. Those people are a monolithic thing and that’s just not the case. We like things to be very simple and in a little package and I think it’s much broader than that. I think over the course of the film, even when I go in my travels, you see that from different places where we go, from all the countries we go to, there’s a much more diverse, even brand of Islam in all of these countries and how it’s practiced. For me, I personally also thought that I was going to be met with a lot more hostility, a lot more resentment, that people weren’t going to want to talk to me because I was an American. They weren’t going to want to sit down and open up. It was completely the opposite. People really were eager to sit down and share their feelings and share their outlooks and share their opinions. These are people who don’t get to speak in a lot of these countries. These people live in countries where if you speak out, you’ll go to jail. That’s terrible, so I think for them to be able to sit down with somebody from what they see as the Western media and actually being able to express their thoughts, knowing it could potentially reach people back in America is very brave.
Q: What change do you hope this film will inspire, as Supersize Me did?
A: It wasn’t like we went to do Supersize Me to say, “We’re going to make a movie that’s going to change everything!” That’s really not the goal when I go in to make a film. For me, the biggest thing is to make a good movie, to make something that I’m passionate about that somehow speaks to me as a filmmaker. With this movie, there’ve been a couple things. The greatest thing I think Supersize Me did was empower people. It empowered an individual. As much as it made McDonald’s or other corporations look at how they do business, it made individuals look at the choices they make. I get stopped all the time by mothers who say, “Ever since we saw your film, we sit down and have dinner every night as a family.” I see schools that talk about how they changed their school lunch program as a result of this. There was a guy who saw the film, a young kid, about 19 or 20, saw the film at Sundance who had been wanting to go overseas and had been wanting to travel but he’s afraid, he’s scared. He goes, “I don’t know what’s out there. I don’t know what people are going to think of me. Once you leave America, you’re not safe.” So he saw the movie and he came up to me afterwards and said, “I just want to let you know…” and he told me what I just told you, and he said, “I’m going to go get a passport immediately and I’m going to go because I’m going to go see what’s out there for myself.” I thought that was fantastic. If it makes somebody want to go see on their own, to learn on their own, to meet people on their own, that’s great. There was a woman who lives in New York City that came to a screening who is an incredibly astute news person and reads the paper every day and watches television and just knows everything that’s happening in the world. She took her 14-year-old son to the film who plays in a rock band and plays videogames with his friends and has no idea what’s going on outside his junior high. She said, “After this film, he and I sat down and had a real political discussion. He was excited to talk and he was excited to just engage on just what he’d seen in this movie. That was the first time he and I had ever had a discussion like that and it was incredible.” So if this film can serve as a primer to a larger discussion between people who will have said, “Well, I know most of this,” but there’s a lot of people whether it’s their children or friends or neighbours or other people who have tuned out, I think we also live in a country where a lot of us have become complacent and apathetic and we’ve shut down because there’s been so much bad news that we’ve kind of lost site of optimism and hope. Maybe it’ll serve as a bridge.
Q: Have you replaced Michael Moore as the everyman documentary hero?
A: I don’t know. I’m just trying to make movies that hopefully people like, and that I like.
Q: What’s next for Morgan Surlock?
A: I got approached to direct one of the segments for Freakonomics which they’re adapting into a feature length film. Now there’s going to be five or six segments directed by other documentary filmmakers that I have so much respect for like Monica [sic, it’s Laura] Poitras who did My Country My Country, the girls who did Jesus Camp, Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki who I think are just two incredibly brilliant filmmakers, so for me to be in that group would be an honour. Hopefully that will work out.
‘Where in the world is Osma Bin Laden?’ is released on DVD in Ireland this Friday.