January 19, 2020

Spurlock embarks on a cinematic quest for Osama

When writer/director Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) discovered he was going to become a father two years ago, he was concerned about the tumultuous state of the world into which his child was being born. Spurlock’s wish was to give his child a safer and more harmonious place to live. So, after a crash course in combat survival, the filmmaker set off on a journey through the Middle East to find the one man who has shaped the world’s perception of that region in recent years: Osama bin Laden. The results of that quest are documented in his new film, “Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?”

Spurlock’s cinematic search included stops in Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel. He employed producers/guides in each country to help him get around and into neighborhoods where the people — not the media or politicians — could share their feelings about their lives, bin Laden, America and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Along the way he discovered a great commonality between the people of those regions and an America that is rarely portrayed in the media.

“One of the things I wanted to do was take the film out of these two-minute sound bites that we get on the news,” Spurlock said. “On TV, we always see these shots of people who scream and yell, and we don’t get to hear from everybody else. The thing that I really love about the film is that it shows that there really is a tremendous amount of humanity.”

Spurlock’s film also paints a vivid portrait of the devastation and violence in those regions.

“One of the goals of this film, for me, was to show what people face on a daily basis,” the director said. In parts of Israel, “there are rockets falling from Gaza every day. There are people in the Palestinian territories who are trying to maneuver through there, but between the wall and the checkpoints, it makes it almost impossible for them.”

Jeremy Chilnick, who co-wrote and co-produced the film (along with producer Stacy Offman), was profoundly moved by the footage of war-torn Israel that Spurlock was sending back to him at his New York production office.

“One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Morgan is sitting in a bombed-out school, and you see the look on his face, probably thinking about his own child,” Chilnick said.

Among other things, one of Chilnick’s key jobs, according to Spurlock, is to play the role of pragmatist.

“Jeremy is a great ‘no’ man. So when I say I want to do this, this and this, he says, ‘no, no, no,'” Chilnick added. “Except for when Morgan said, ‘I want to go looking for Osama bin Laden.’ That probably should have been a no right there.”

Spurlock and his crew faced constant dangers during filming. They traveled with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and while there was some comfort in having the protection of trained soldiers, there was an additional liability in being embedded with them.

“The most frightened I was over the course of this trip was with the military — because those guys are targets,” Spurlock said.

“Every day they’re targeted by the Taliban and Al Qaeda or militant extremists. One day we got called out of the camp because there was an ambush on the governor’s convoy. Another day there was an IED that was discovered in front of our convoy as we were rolling along, and they diverted us back to the base. There are scary things that happen when you’re out there.”

One of the more confrontational moments Spurlock faced in the film was not in the war zones of Afghanistan but inside an Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem. While walking the streets looking for someone to interview, Spurlock and crew were surrounded by a hostile crowd, demanding that they “get out!”

“I think it was distrust of the media and of outsiders,” Spurlock said. “I think the greatest part of that scene is when the people are confronting us, and one guy makes it a point to come up to us and say ‘These people who are screaming and yelling at you — most of us don’t think like them.’ That was such a beautiful thing to have happen. That one little bit mirrors and parallels a lot of the same voices that we hear in the film.”

This film has left Spurlock more optimistic about the world and its future, he said. His journey taught him that people everywhere share the same hopes and dreams for themselves and their children. And that one of the great little-known commonalities between east and west is a love of professional wrestling. Now that his son, Laken, has been born, Spurlock has hopes that the lessons he learned from his film will be passed on to his child.

“One of the things that was instilled in me by my parents was the idea that you should try to make the world a better place for your kids than what was given to you,” the proud father said.

“And one of the things that I hope I can give to my son is to expose him to people and cultures and ideas that will broaden his horizons,” he added. “That will cause him to question things not only in our country, but outside our borders. I hope that in some ways I can inspire him to want to seek out answers on his own. I think that would be the greatest hope that I have.”

“Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?” opens in theaters April 18.