The Pirates Tapes
Exposing piracy in Somalia from the inside out, The Pirates Tapes follows Mohamed Ashareh, a young Somali-Canadian, as he travels to Somalia in hopes of joining an active pirate cell. Armed only with a hidden camera, Mohamed works his way into a cell run by a ruthless warlord, Jama Donyal, and is assigned to his first hijacking mission. When things take an unexpected turn, Mohamed finds himself on the run from the law with the danger of execution looming.
In many ways The Pirate Tapes feels like two different documentaries mashed together. The first two thirds of the film is riveting as we not only see Mohamed trying to make contact with pirate cells, but with political figures such as President Faroole who governs Puntland as well. Of all the regions that make up Somalia, Puntland is the place where most of the Pirate cells originate from. The Pirate Tapes not only does a good job of displaying how the warlords and Faroole are linked, but the film also highlights the events that created the pirate epidemic in the first place.
Despite the wealth of information, the film begins to falter in the last act which, by all accounts, should have been the most gripping part. It is in this section the directors are forced to confront questions that they themselves had put off acknowledging up to this point. Only when Mohamed is on the run does The Pirate Tapes stop to question why someone would put their life at risk in the first place. Especially since the film states in the early few frames that the importance of Mohamed’s family name would grant him safe travel in Somalia. What is further frustrating about the documentary is how it leads the audience to believe that Mohamed is on a Michael Moore-style quest for the truth, yet the film is not really Mohamed’s to begin with. He is merely the star not one of the four directors listed in the credits. Sure he is the one with the hidden camera in the most dangerous moments; yet the interview footage with experts in the field (e.g. politicians, activists, etc), which offers the most insight, are clearly done by the directors. When Mohamed gets into serious trouble it becomes very apparent that The Pirate Tapes could have been made without his involvement at all. He is nothing more than an expendable figure in all of this.
This is not to say that the risk that Mohamed took should not be commended. In fact it was a ballsy move that very few of us would have attempted. Yet the fact that corruption leads to his downfall is not shocking in a film that has spent the first forty-five minutes detailing the levels of corruption in Somalia. Also, the film throws in additional facts and statistics in the closing that slightly takes away from the overall impact of the film (e.g. only 0.2 percent of ships are attacked when sailing through Somalian waters).
Although the last act really hinders the documentary, The Pirate Tapes is still an informative piece of filmmaking that offers a lot of food for thought. The film provides a rare look into what life in Somalia is really like and the toll that world greed has taken on a nation that merely seeks an existence where they can export their own goods, have a government that actually speaks for the people, and not have to suffer for others lack of environmental concern.