The Strange Case of Salman abd al Haqq premieres this Wednesday, April 18th at 8PM in Cubberley Auditorium. Don’t miss this important moment in Stanford student filmmaking and in the Stanford student body’s response to America’s torture scandals.
View the Trailer:
The first revelations of America’s torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay shocked many in the Stanford community. Even more shocking were revelations by the ACLU and others that the use of torture (including approval of specific techniques) was sanctioned at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Then came news that the CIA, notorious for using the most “aggressive” techniques, was operating secret prisons abroad. And as if that wasn’t enough, the US government was also shipping prisoners to other countries notorious for their sanctioning of torture, such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Uzbekistan. This extra-judicial process of holding prisoners in other countries is known as “extraordinary rendition,” or as some would call it, “the outsourcing of torture.”
With our government’s commitment to human rights crashing down around us, one would hope — no, one would expect — that there would be some kind of artistic processing of the phenomenon from the Stanford community. A new film by Tim Gregory and Jeff Orlowski, entitled The Strange Case of Salman abd al Haqq, is exactly this sort of artistic processing. It is a forceful protest, in hopes that the American people and our elected representatives might begin to understand this moral crisis, and then really confront it.
To learn more about the film and the thinking behind it, I sat down for a few minutes with Tim Gregory, co-director, to discuss how it came to be.
Blog for Stanford: Hey Tim, how are you doing?
Tim Gregory: I’m good, just busy trying to finish the last bits of film editing.
BFS:Can you tell us a little bit about the film’s story line?
TG: The film tells the story of our titular fictional character Salman, and it does so in essentially two ways. The first is a chronological account of his time in an Egyptian prison cell where he is questioned about his potential links to a terror cell. Meanwhile, we have flashbacks to the main events in his life that led him up to this point. This is where the audience learns more about his back-story and can try to piece together an idea of whether he is guilty or innocent.
BFS: Who’s idea was it to create the film? Can you say a little bit about how the filmmaking process went?
TG: The process began about a year ago when I stumbled upon a few news stories and decided this would be my next film project. I started moving quite fast on it because I felt that this was an urgent topic that needed to be addressed as soon as possible. Shortly after the screenplay was written, I attached Jeff Orlowski as a co-director and then went about casting. I then took a break for the summer, polished the script and we started shooting in October 2006. Generally speaking, I was more responsible for the story and character direction, while Jeff would pay closer attention to the cinematography and the overall look of the film. It was a very efficient relationship.
BFS: You said that this film is based on the testimony of victims of the U.S. government’s practice of “extraordinary rendition.” Can you say more about the testimony you used or about some of the victims whose stories you wanted to tell?
TG: There are between 5 and 10 well-publicized instances of this practice although the CIA has admitted to arresting over 100 suspects and rendering them to countries where they may be tortured. Of course some of these suspects are guilty – and in The Strange Case, there is plenty of doubt about Salman’s innocence – but that is not really the point. The point is that this is an extralegal procedure and that the US intelligence services are encouraging or supervising torture before suspects are proven guilty. Most of the screenplay was inspired by the testimony of two people. Maher Arar is a Canadian who was arrested at JFK airport, tortured in Syria and returned after it was decided he had no information to give up. Abu Ali is an American citizen who was tortured by Saudi authorities, supposedly with the consent of the United States, and subsequently convicted here in America, with his confession from Saudi Arabia admitted as evidence.
BFS: What do you hope to accomplish with the film? What do you want people to take away from the screening?
TG: First and foremost I want them to understand what torture actually looks like. The film is very graphic not because Jeff and I are sadistic people but because, in my opinion, news stories with terms such as “extraordinary rendition”, “physical abuse”, “sleep deprivation” are not enough. If people are to realize that a civilized society should not torture then they have to SEE how uncivilized it really is. Once they can see that, then it’s up to people to decide whether or not torture is still an acceptable cost for our supposed security in the War on Terror and I don’t want to force people to think either way. The important thing is that they are given the full picture in which they can say, “these people could be guilty or they could be innocent, this is an option, these are the chances that it will work; is it worth it?”
BFS: Thanks for talking with me today. I saw the film and thought it was extraordinary, especially for a student film. Congratulations.
TG: Thanks a lot, it was my pleasure to speak with you. Take care.