Guantánamo, torture and friendship: how we made My Brother’s Keeper | Membership

How did you first uncover Mohamedou and Steve?

I first heard about Mohamedou Ould Slahi in December 2014, when my then-Guardian editor, Mustafa Khalili, commissioned me to make a brief animated movie about [Slahi’s] bestselling memoir, Guantánamo Diary. It was by means of that undertaking that I met Mohamedou’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander, and we later started discussing the potential for making a longer-term documentary collectively.

Remarkably, Mohamedou’s e book was written and revealed whereas he was nonetheless a prisoner at Guantánamo. It vividly described his “extraordinary rendition” from his dwelling nation of Mauritania to Jordan, Afghanistan and lastly Cuba, and the gut-wrenching interrogation and torture that adopted (euphemistically dubbed “particular measures”). All through his 15-year incarceration, Mohamedou was by no means charged with against the law by US authorities.


Regardless of this horrendous ordeal, his memoir revealed a compassionate, heat and intellectually wealthy human being caught within the web of post-9/11 paranoia – somebody whose astute understanding of language and prose was not solely vividly accessible but in addition deeply transferring.

Mohamedou had expressed an curiosity in having his first moments of freedom documented on digicam, so Nancy invited me to affix her in Nouakchott just some days after he was launched in 2016. Mohamedou and I clicked right away and I had a robust feeling that his post-release journey can be price exploring. Fortunately for me, Mohamedou is a large fan of cinema (particularly Adam Sandler comedies), in addition to being an incorrigible showoff, so he was actually interested in the concept of creating a documentary.

Mohamedou Ould Salahi, left, with Laurence Topham

Mohamedou Ould Salahi, left, with Laurence Topham: ‘Mohamedou and I clicked right away and I had a robust feeling that his post-release journey can be price exploring.’ {Photograph}: Equipped

How did you go about making the documentary? How lengthy did it soak up complete?

I visited Mohamedou in Mauritania on 4 journeys between 2016-19. On the second event, Mohamedou began to open up about his unlikely friendship together with his former guard, Steve Wooden, and by the next yr they’d reconnected on Fb and had been planning a reunion in Nouakchott. Mohamedou rang me shortly thereafter and invited me to affix them.

I began the edit a few yr later, within the spring of 2019, and we went by means of a number of iterations over the following 12 months, together with an extended reduce that featured way more of Mohamedou’s backstory. Essential to that evolution had been my govt producers, Lindsay Poulton and Mustafa Khalili, as properly my co-editor, Agnieszka Liggett. They had been all instrumental in shaping the ultimate movie and serving to me to find its themes and narrative focus.

Lindsay Poulton, the Guardian’s head of documentaries, says: “With Guardian Documentaries, we are at all times on the lookout for stunning routes into necessary modern tales. Laurence has chosen an fascinating lens by which to replicate on Guantanemo, a strong image of the ‘battle on terror’. There may be lots to say on the cruelty however to decide on as an alternative to rejoice the humanity that may be discovered even within the darkest corners was a daring choice. Filmmaking is at all times a collaboration, a push and pull between life and creativeness. Mohamedou’s ineffable spirit in life pulled the movie within the route of hope.”

We formally launched the completed movie on the Tribeca Film Festival in 2020, however sadly all the pieces was disrupted by Covid-19. Nonetheless, the movie went on to have some success on the digital competition circuit, taking part in at 19 worldwide movie festivals, profitable three awards and was just lately Bafta longlisted for British brief movie.

My Brother’s Keeper: a former Guantánamo detainee, his guard and their unlikely friendship – video

Why did you are feeling it was so necessary to inform his story on this method? And why now?

Within the wave of post-9/11 paranoia and concern, Muslims had been incessantly vilified, stereotyped and misrepresented on display screen. Detainees themselves had been not often described as three-dimensional folks with common human rights, or handled as harmless till confirmed responsible. On this sense, I feel Guantánamo was sadly very profitable in dehumanising the folks it incarcerated.

And but, unwittingly, Mohamedou and Steve had overcome these big divides to see each other not as devices of an ideology however as human beings. In one in all our last interviews shortly after their reunion, Mohamedou mentioned: We transcended all these stereotypes, all this hatred. We didn’t try this after jail, we did that within the darkest of moments. We did that when it mattered most.”

What had been the large challenges when making this?


Once I met Mohamedou for the very first time, I used to be assembly a person who was on the finish of a terrifying 15-year odyssey. The story of how Mohamedou got here to be a prisoner at Guantánamo, and what occurred to him whereas he was there, was dramatic and complicated sufficient to occupy a multipart collection, not to mention a brief movie. So from the very starting I knew that one in all our largest challenges was determining how to grapple with a lot story in a method that didn’t really feel laboured or overwhelming.

The opposite key problem was discovering a robust lively narrative, whereas additionally embracing the truth that an important piece of the puzzle was obscured previously – a previous the place there was nearly no movie archive, no “discovered footage”, and no uncensored images.

We grappled with this storytelling conundrum for the most effective a part of two years as I continued to return and go to Mohamedou and his household in Nouakchott. When he advised me that he’d been in contact together with his former US guard and they had been planning a reunion, we realised this lively narrative might be the glue that held the story collectively.

Mohamedou Ould Salahi on a beach in Mauritania

Mohamedou Ould Salahi on a seaside in Mauritania: ‘He advised we go all the way down to the seaside as a result of he hadn’t seen a sundown in over 15 years.’ {Photograph}: Equipped

And the highlights?

Definitely one of many highlights of creating this movie was being with Mohamedou on Nouakchott seaside just some days after he was launched in 2016. He advised we go all the way down to the seaside as a result of he hadn’t seen a sundown in over 15 years. That basically introduced dwelling the surprising nature of his incarceration and how simply we take life’s easy pleasures with no consideration.

Mohamedou and I had been strolling alongside the sting of the ocean when he all of a sudden picked up an unusually formed rock and launched into an uncanny David Attenborough impression: “You see this? This rock is very uncommon and is barely discovered right here, in Mauritania.” I used to be laughing a lot I couldn’t maintain the digicam regular. Mohamedou later advised me that one of many few DVDs he had entry to at Guantánmo was the BBC’s Blue Planet collection, and as a result of he’d watched each episode a whole bunch of instances, he’d mastered David’s well-known intonation. It was an excellent instance of Mohamedou’s present for statement, language and humour, and I knew in that second that I used to be filming a very particular human being.

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