Film Prof Plans bin Laden Retrospective

Garry Daniels, a senior film professor from Vancouver's Simon Fraser University, has announced plans for an Osama bin Laden film retrospective that will celebrate the video career of the well-known Saudi terrorist. Although Daniels says his idea has been greeted with only a lukewarm response, he denies his decision to create this retrospective is any way political or motivated by an anti-American bias.

"I don't like politics. I want to stay away from politics," he explained during an interview with a local reporter, "What I want to get closer to, get a better understanding of, are the aesthetic qualities of Osama's videos. His framing, his compositions, his camera angles. The way he plays with depth and creates textures. All those apolitical characteristics of cinema that have been wrongfully politicized."


Daniels says he plans to devote one week to the screenings, and hopes to show the videos in chronological order, in order to better trace bin Laden's evolution as a filmmaker.

"I think most people see Osama, see his videos, and assume he's just some terrorist with a camcorder filming political tracts. What most people don't see is the care and planning that goes into each and every video, and the way that each subsequent video builds on the last."

"Seeing them together," he continued, "really gives you an appreciation for those aspects of Osama's style that change and evolve from video to video, as well as those that remain the same. There truly is an original style being created here."

Daniels claims that the reason most people don't value bin Laden as a filmmaker is that his work has been butchered by the mainstream media. For this, he blames North American and European television stations that show either bits of bin Laden's actual footage, or re-edit the tapes to fit time slots or to show only what they deem the most interesting or provocative parts.

"Imagine seeing Casablanca or Citizen Kane edited down into fifteen minutes," challenges Daniels, "It's unthinkable! Not only would no one have the courage to do it, but the result would barely resemble the films as they were envisioned by Michael Curtiz and Orson Welles. It would be a travesty. And yet this is what happens to Osama, time and time again. What you see on TV is not what Osama intended you to see."

Asked about what he would like his retrospective to accomplish, Daniels said that his immediate goal is nothing more than to introduce a new audience to bin Laden's videos.

"I want people who've never watched an entire Osama short to sit down and watch it. I think they'll be pleasantly surprised. I think they'll enjoy being challenged by it, in terms of style and technique, and will be thrilled at experiencing a new movement in cinema."

In the longterm, however, Daniels said he has more ambitious hopes: to introduce the idea that bin Laden is what in film language is called an auteur, a filmmaker-artist who infuses his works with a personal style and personal world-view that is evident in each and every one of his works.

"I want people to have the knowledge to be able to look back at the history of cinema in fifty years and say, there were the Lumiere brothers, there was D.W. Griffith, there was German Expressionism, Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave, and, then, there was Osama bin Laden. And to be able to see that each of these pivots mark a radical shift or expansion in how we make and perceive films."


Daniels closed his interview by pointing out the case of Leni Riefenstahl, a famous German director who made films for Hitler in Nazi Germany.

"Like with Riefenstahl, I think we can and should separate political affiliation from cinematic accomplishment. I hope that Osama will eventually be judged fairly as a filmmaker, in separation from his identity as a terrorist, or freedom fighter, or what have you."

The retrospective is tentatively scheduled for May of next year in Vancouver. And a website, promised Daniels, will be online shortly.

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