Dir: Mark Henderson & Kate Horne
Cert: 15 • UK: 83 min • Renegade Pictures • DVD and iTunes, March 2011
Mark Henderson was one of eight backpackers kidnapped from the mountains of Colombia in 2003. The subject of the remarkable documentary My Kidnapper is his return to the scene of the crime. The hostages were marched for more than 700 miles over a period of 101 days and used to garner international attention for the plight of the Colombian people. Or, at least, that is what they were told. Yet although the film retraces the steps of the ordeal it is the destination more than the journey that makes My Kidnapper so extraordinary. At the end of the trek Mark comes face to face with Antonio, one the guards who watched over him throughout the 101 days, in order to hear his side of the story. The result is unsettling and deeply emotional.
The opening scenes recapture what the kidnapping looked like from the outside, using news footage and the video made by the kidnappers to show that the backpackers were still alive. The journey inside the experience really gets underway with the revelation that, less than a year after the events, Mark was e-mailed by Antonio, one of his kidnappers. Another of the hostages, Reini, received a friend request on Facebook from Camila, Antonio’s partner and fellow kidnapper. The facts are thoroughly surreal. That Mark would return to Colombia with Reini, and two of the other hostages, Ido and Erez, is astounding. Although it is hard not to side with Mark’s partner, Paul, who did not think they should go back at all, it is nevertheless a remarkably brave thing to do. And the documentary makes it an understandable one.
The pacing of the film, from the scenes in the jungle with their expert use of the hand-held camera, through to the recollections of the hostages and Antonio’s narrated version of the events, make for compulsive viewing. Reini’s story is the more emotional because as an interviewee she unguardedly lets the audience into her head. It is also interesting to see how differently the men reacted to the events. During the original kidnapping it was Reini who snapped and attempted to kill one of her captors, whilst the men talked and planned. The incredible fact that the German government are demanding that she pay €18,000 for the helicopter that airlifted her to safety is a sting in the film’s tail.
The journey is narrated by Mark, and interpolated throughout is footage from the interview with Antonio, who talks about the events and explains why they did what they did. It is clear that Antonio and Camila are carrying a tremendous amount of guilt and that they want to be forgiven. Antonio goes as far as to say he would like to meet Mark’s parents and to explain his reasons to them.
Yet throughout their explanations, justifications and plain obfustications it is noticeable that they are concerned with their guilt, their absolution, and that their reasons for meeting with Mark and Reini are selfishly motivated. There is no sense that they are concerned about what the hostages went through, but only what they went through, and how their actions were subsequently understood. Their story is ruled by this and this alone. They talk about how they looked after the hostages in ways they did not have to and then they congratulate themselves for that. At times it is like listening to a child justify extreme cruelty. It is apparent that their bravery in meeting with Mark and Reini was motivated not by a need to make amends but for personal absolution.
It is a credit to My Kidnapper that it does not dictate this reading of Antonio and Camila’s story. On the surface the reasons they provide are what they say they are, which is to give the hostages the explanation of events that they deserve. And it does seem that in meeting Mark and Reini they show real courage because of the potential danger of reprisal. After all, actions speak louder than words, as someone points out whilst talking about Antonio and Camila, and perhaps that would be good if it were true. Words nevertheless provide a narrative for the action. It is their words that are their undoing, not their actions.
My Kidnapper is an unexpected and surprising retelling of a hostage story. It is also a remarkably balanced look at a situation in which the emotions of all those involved ran hot. At the end what is left is not anger nor blame, but the horror of a profoundly traumatic event.
My Kidnapper airs tonight (February 22nd) on More4 as a part of their True Stories season at 10pm.