Desperately seeking Osama: Morgan Spurlock on his hunt for the world's most wanted man

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

He risked his health to expose the evils of fast food in 'Super Size Me'. But the subject of Morgan Spurlock's new documentary could have killed him far more efficiently. So what on earth possessed the film-maker to go in search of the world's most wanted man?

For the past seven years, the world has been trying to catch Osama bin Laden. Trying and failing. So I'm not quite sure what made me think one lonely guy like me could manage it. Perhaps it was watching too many big-budget action movies where the one lonely guy always does get his man.

As I searched for him I imagined many times what it would be like to sit face to face with Bin Laden. I'd read that as a youngster in Saudi Arabia he had spent his time riding horses. They were his passion. Well, that's what I'd done as a boy in West Virginia. So perhaps I could break the ice by talking to him about horses. Before getting on to the more important questions.

I couldn't help thinking, too, that it would be a kind of Tiger Woods moment. I meet him and then I'm presented with the cheque for the $25m that is on offer to anyone who tracks him down. Dead or alive.

But, of course, I wanted him alive. So I could get down to the really important stuff. Like asking him how all this craziness that has happened in the world since 9/11 could come to an end. How do we stop it? I hoped I might get a real answer, but I also had this picture in my mind of walking up to him, with my hand outstretched, and him pulling out a sword and cutting it off.

Behind the imagining, though, there were the practicalities. Such as where exactly is he? I never met anyone who handed me an address – "You will find Bin Laden at 432 Main Street." But there were plenty of folks who directed me towards Waziristan in the Tribal Areas, which lie between Pakistan proper and Afghanistan, and which are ' administered by the Pakistan government. So my plan was to pitch up in Waziristan and see where it led me.

I also spoke to those who had previous experience of making contact with the Taliban. And it sounded tough. They had been locked in a room for days on end, strip-searched, forced to change their clothes, hooded and put in the trunk of a car, driven to another house where they repeated the process, all before they got to talk to their man. So, if that was what you had to go through before you got to meet the Taliban, how much tougher was it going to be before I could sit down with Bin Laden?

I tried to prepare myself by finding out as much as I could about him and his background. I travelled from America to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan before finally going to Pakistan. It was in Saudi Arabia that Bin Laden had been brought up, amid great wealth and privilege. I attempted to track down the family firm, but they were having none of it.

What I did find, though, were others there who admired him, and who shared his mentality. From an early age, they had been taught to be anti-Israel and anti-American because America supports Israel. That was what was still going on in the classrooms. I sat down and talked to a group of students, and that is what they said to me – before they called a halt to the interview. They just shut down.

So there is that educational aspect, a generation being corrupted in its attitudes to America, its allies and the West by education. And a generation too believing that the Saudi government has somehow sold out to the West, that it services the US fuel culture and, with the money it makes from oil, buys American weapons. It is a trade-off that many don't agree with. They are with Bin Laden in opposing the fact that the wealth is going to a few at the top.

Bin Laden is, in one sense, railing against his own background. His family were among the thousands of princes who have made a fortune from oil. You could see him as an angry trustafarian.

As well as getting a picture of the man I planned to meet, I discovered much more while on his trail. The net Bin Laden has cast has grown very wide. So there are now youngsters in Morocco buying T-shirts with his picture on in the markets. There are people in Egypt talking about his ideas and agreeing with him. Slowly I started to understand that the idea of Bin Laden is so much bigger than the man himself.

There were other insights and surprises. I encountered, for example, a lot less hostility than I had been led to believe there would be. At its simplest, ordinary people in the Middle East were more willing to talk to me, as an American, than I ever thought they were going to be.

There were, of course, some who were not. Like the female shoppers in the mall in Saudi Arabia who I tried to approach on camera. Or the Hasidic Jews in Israel who ended up attacking me when I tried to engage them in dialogue. The police had to come to the rescue

Elsewhere, though, I was given a genuine chance to open a dialogue. In some ways it was like the process I went through in 2004 when I made Super Size Me. That film was about the fast-food industry. I subjected myself to a steady diet of McDonald's for 30 days, gained 25 pounds, suffered liver dysfunction and depression and then took 14 months to return to my normal weight. Lots of critics at the time said, "So what, who doesn't know that fast food is bad for you?" Well, the success of the film seemed to suggest that there were plenty of people out there who didn't. Why? Because they don't watch the news. They were an audience that we managed to reach through an independent documentary film, released through cinemas.

I hope the same will be true of Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?. You might argue ' that there are no "new" facts in it, but that's not the point. There is plenty in there that plenty of people, in the United States and elsewhere, just aren't hearing. To get through to them, you have to try a new approach.

The subject matter is serious – arguably the most serious subject facing us today – but that doesn't mean you have to address it without humour. It needs to entertain people if they are going to turn up to watch it. And I believe it is through humour that you get to the humanity of a situation.

One of the things I see happening in America is that fewer and fewer people control what we see, read and hear about in the media, and they don't seem to have an interest in putting out challenging material. That is why these independent documentary films, such as mine and Michael Moore's [Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, Bowling for Columbine] have made such an impact. They offer a medium where you can challenge audiences to look at things in a different way.

You don't need to start off being an expert. In Super Size Me, I didn't set myself up as a scientist. This time, I'm not a politician. But I do believe that if you go into something with good intentions, something good will come out of it.

Its been suggested that there is a link between the popularity of these films and the presidency of George Bush. I always say that I hope there isn't, or soon I'll be out of a job. But I believe it is about something more than audiences wanting to get behind the picture of the world out there that our president is giving us. The problems we face now are bigger than any presidency. And they're not going to go away because we elect a new president, whoever it is, later this year.

So, as it went on, my search became about something other than why we haven't found Bin Laden. When I finally got to Peshawar in the Tribal Areas, and to a sign saying "No foreigners beyond this point", I felt able to turn back. To go on would have been dangerous. But I'd always known and accepted that. What I had learnt was that it would also be pointless. It was no good risking my life for nothing. The important thing now is to tackle the spread of the Bin Laden ideology.

We in the West have to reach beyond the vocal minority who burn effigies of the US president, and hear instead the voices of the majority in the Middle East who don't hate America. They don't really care about America.

And it cuts both ways, because in America at present, the driving forces in news coverage about the outside world are conflict and controversy. That's what gets ratings; it is that cynical and commercial. By contrast, when I am in Europe, I can turn to the BBC at prime time and watch a news documentary or something that gives an in-depth view.

You never see that in the States. Despite the attention it attracted, Super Size Me [nominated for an Oscar in 2004 and a prize-winner at various film festivals] was never shown on mainstream channels. Only on cable and in cinemas.

I'd like to see this new movie encourage us to change – by pushing people around the world into a dialogue. We've got to take it out of politicians' hands. There isn't one of the current candidates for president that I want to throw my lot in with yet. We need to establish a consensus beyond political lines. I'd like to see, for example, more Americans, not less, travelling to the Middle East; more students exchanging classrooms around the world, between different cultures; and more meetings going on on the internet. We now have the technology to make that possible. We need to use it for positive ends.

On my flight back to New York at the end of filming, when I thought again about not having found Osama bin Laden, I didn't feel bad. I knew now I never had to. The place to look for Osama – or at least the spirit that created him – wasn't in some cave in Afghanistan or the mountains of Pakistan, but in the hearts and actions of peoples everywhere whose lives he's had such a huge impact on. One way or another, I'd found Osama everywhere I'd gone.

'Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?' is released in UK cinemas on 9 May. The book of the same title by Morgan Spurlock is available from Harvill Secker at £11.99 He was talking to Peter Stanford

They seek him here...

By Andrew Buncombe

For any sort of certainty about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, one has to go back quite some time. In December 2001, as US forces were breaking the Taliban's control of Afghanistan and pursuing al-Qa'ida, a group of fighters holed up in the mountains of Tora Bora, a remote location that Bin Laden had long used as a base. As B52 bombers were sent in to obliterate the cave systems, US commanders decided to block the mountain passes not with American troops, but Afghan militia.

It was a huge error. At some point in early December, Bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora towards the border with Pakistan, six hours away. An intercepted radio message, believed with "reasonable certainty" to be Bin Laden, heard him urging his men to fight to the death. Then on 8 December came the report of a group of Arab fighters and their leader stopping for supplies at the village of Tangi, next to the border. And then he was gone.

Except, of course, he was not, for he has since appeared on several video tapes and numerous audio recordings, berating the West. He even weighed in just before the 2004 US election, telling the American public that George Bush was "deceiving" them. But where was that video – and the most recent one, released in September 2007 – recorded? Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Yemen? All these and more have been listed as possibilities.

The likeliest location, according to a Washington-based intelligence analyst is the tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan. These are nominally controlled by the Pakistan government, but in reality are governed by tribal leaders and, increasingly, Taliban militants.

Under President Pervez Musharraf – long supported and financed by the West – Pakistan has taken some measures against the militants, and the US has occasionally struck with missiles fired from unmanned drones. But domestic political concerns, allied with questions about the effectiveness of some Pakistani troops, have limited operations. This too, might be a reflection that for all his iconic status, capturing Bin Laden may be less important to the West than the wider effort against extremism.

There are alternative theories as the shadow-chasing continues. After Bin Laden's most recent video was aired, the former White House security official Richard Clarke pointed out that his beard looked fake. He claimed it was possible Bin Laden had trimmed his own, previously grey beard, because he was now living in southeast Asia. "One place where a beard would stand out would be southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia. That is an environment where most men, Muslim men, don't have beards," he said.

What seems clear is that however vital the hunt for Bin Laden may once have been, officials now believe there are more pressing priorities. "[There is] only modest effort towards Bin Laden because it is a wild goose chase," said Michael O'Hanlon, a national security expert in Washington. "But if we ever think we know where he is, a lot of effort will, of course, be devoted quickly to it."

Buncombe is The Independent's Asia correspondent

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
Arts and Entertainment
books The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?