The past is never far behind us, but some of us are better at escaping its legacy. If you’ve been kidnapped by armed revolutionaries and dragged deep into their impenetrable jungle hideaway, then you’re probably more aware of this than most of us. My Kidnapper follows four people who experienced just that, and then returned to those same jungles five years later to visit the scene of their abduction and meet two of their kidnappers.
You may remember Mark Henderson from the news reports in 2003 that reported he and eight other backpackers had been kidnapped by guerrillas in Colombia. 101 days later he was released, but hasn’t been able to forget his ordeal. If this wasn’t enough, a year after arriving back in the UK, he received an email from one of those involved in the kidnapping. Six years of emails followed, culminating in the trip back to the jungles of Colombia told in My Kidnapper.
Mark was 31 at the time of the kidnapping and had been travelling around South America on a five months sabbatical from his job in the UK TV industry. Working in TV, and having already made documentaries, gave Mark an ideal story for this project. But don’t think this means the story isn’t worthy of a documentary, instead it reminds us that there are thousands of fascinating stories out there that will never get filmed.
Although there were seven other hostages, only three others wanted to be involved. Reini, a female German physiotherapist around the same age as Mark, is still coming to terms with her experiences. “I’m still in it,” she says, “I miss the person I was before.” A little younger, Ido and Erez, are two Israelis who had been travelling around South America after their military service. All four of them are haunted and get involved in the trip to find ‘closure’.
Mark Henderson and the other three former hostages in the documentary were just weeks from end of their trips when kidnapped, and this seems to make it all that much more arbitrary and hard for them to comprehend. The small gang want to find a context and meaning to an event that forced its way in on their lives.
The film begins with Mark’s remarkable email correspondence – Reini even got a Facebook friend invite – with his kidnapper, Antonio, who the suggests they meet up. Returning to Colombia they take a chopper, with a machine gun mounted on the side, into the jungle. After flying over endless miles of lushly beautiful rainforest-covered hills they arrive at the Cuidad Perdida (or the Lost City) where the group was abducted.
They then take us through the events and emotions of their kidnapping. Being marched through the jungle and then held captive in huts was hard physically, but probably even harder mentally. For all of them, the powerlessness and threat of death are made even more unbearable by being unrelenting. Luckily for the production, all members of the team were allowed to keep diaries, so we have a good idea exactly what they were experiencing.
As well as running through those terrible events, they also meet local villagers and Nick and Reini also meet with two of their former captors, Antonio and his wife Camilla. It is here that the film becomes highly unusual and even more fascinating. Antonio was an educated city-dweller before a book by Che Guevara set him on the path of revolutionary Marxism.
As we pry further into Antonio’s story, we also learn more about the civil strife in Colombia. I, for one, didn’t know that the country had been riven by what is known as the ‘Colombian armed conflict‘ that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, displaced millions and been rumbling on since 1964. The war has its origins in the great disparities of wealth between the wealthier Spanish settlers and the poor natives and African slaves they brought to work for them. More recently cocaine has made matters even worse.
It becomes clear that this film isn’t just about the past of four unlucky travellers, but of a whole country (and possibly a continent) and how difficult it is to leave the past behind. For Reini, the experience continues – not only has she suffered from a very bad back ever since, but the German government has charged her 17,000 euros for the helicopter ride out of the jungle at the end of her captivity. (No wonder they’re the ones who are bailing out the rest of Europe.) Despite this all four manage to get some resolution from their journey. Meanwhile, the number of kidnappings in Colombia rose over 2010.
My Kidnapper, directed by Mark Henderson and Kate Horne, is released in selected cinemas on 11 February and broadcast on More 4 at 10pm on 22 February.