In 2003, Mark Henderson and seven others were kidnapped by Colombianmilitants and held for four months. Almost a year later, he began receiving emails and Facebook requests from two of his former kidnappers. A strange story that seems possible only in the age of the Internet, it became even stranger when Mark returned to meet his kidnapper, Antonio. His film, My Kidnapper, documents that journey, revisiting the experience and its impact on the lives of the rebels, their hostages and families, and the people of Colombia. We spoke to Mark about the film.
Why did you make this film?
I always wanted to tell the story of what happened to us, and I initially thought of writing a book. Even though I worked in television prior to the kidnapping, I didn't just want to tell the story retrospectively with reconstruction sequences and thought it was better suited to print. But I soon gave up on the book, as the process of writing was bringing on night terrors and I felt very panicked all the time. It was only when Antonio contacted and reminded me that we'd spoken about making documentaries in the mountains, that the idea of making a film came up again. There was now a present day narrative of finding out what had happened since the kidnapping to everyone involved. As a film maker I felt this was a more interesting story to tell and could be woven into the past tense retelling of the actual kidnapping.
At the beginning, your partner and family seem very ambivalent about the project. Your partner was especially concerned that you would become a different person if you went back. Has it changed you?
It has changed me but for the better. I now have no questions about the kidnapping. Everything has been answered. Once Antonio got in touch with me, I knew I would have to meet him and now I have. I was perhaps naive in thinking how important going back was for closure, but it has been the most life-changing project I've ever worked on. It was so much more than making a film, it was about putting the past to rest and moving forward and making the film just allowed me to do that.
When you went back to Colombia, did you feel like you were in danger? Is travel a different experience for you nowadays?
I was so caught up in preparations for going back that I didn't consider the danger. It was only when I landed in Medellin that it dawned on me where I was and what could happen. The helicopter flight into the jungle was terrifying, as we slowly flew towards the Lost City, my heart was racing. Though I was probably more scared about what it meant to be back, than of being kidnapped again, though it did cross my mind and I could just picture the headlines back home "Idiot Director Walks Back Into Danger". Nobody would have had any sympathy if we'd been taken again, I realised that. But we put every precaution in place, we had to do that for our families sake as well as out own.
I still travel and I still go to interesting places. These days thought I am more aware of where I am travelling to and the situation there. We need to educate ourselves about our holiday destinations and not just lie on a beach oblivious to the country's politics and history.
One interesting part of your story, which I hadn't expected, was that the Europeans and Israelis reacted to the kidnappers in very different ways. What kind of role did culture play in the group dynamics?
I would hate to play up to national stereotypes, but I was the compliant agreeable Brit and the Israelis were argumentative and fought and rebelled at every opportunity. I'd never spent much time with Israelis before and was fascinated by their fighting spirit. They were not going to take anything lying down and good on them. It certainly made for an interesting kidnap at times.
When you were set free, you felt that the kidnapping had served some kind of purpose, but when you went back, you saw it in a very different light. Has your attitude towards what happened changed again, after seeing the film?
I now realise that nothing changed, in fact it's got worse for certain people involved in the kidnapping. Not just Reini, but the displaced villagers and even Antonio and Camila. My only hope is that some good can come from the film, however that may be. If it shines a light on the displaced villagers plight and brings their story to the attention of the viewers, then the film at least has served a purpose, which is more than the kidnap did.
Have your kidnappers seen the film? What did they think?
Yes they have and weirdly I've just received an email from Antonio talking about it. He asked me why we included certain elements and didn't include others. He also wanted to send his apologies to my parents after seeing them in the film. I don't care if Antonio and Camila like it or not. But I do care that they think it is a fair portrayal of them and their side of the story. Antonio is also interested in knowing what the audience's reaction has been to the film and questions are raised by it.
Will you continue to stay in touch with them?
Yes, I will. We have a friendship, a weird friendship that a lot of people probably won't understand. It's not like I'm going to call him every week, but I am sure we will see each other again one day.
Wierd it may be, but watching Mark's powerful, raw, and thoughtful film, you'll be glad of the insight it provides. My Kidnapper is in cinemas on 11 February, and airs on More 4 on 22 February at 10pm. For info and showtimes visit their website at www.mykidnapper.com.