“A filmmaker of artistic and political consequence,” raved The New York Times

Sorting it out on the "white board," in "Manhunt"

Sorting it out on the “white board,” in “Manhunt”

The man behind the breakfast-cereal smile was the special representative in Iraq for Kofi Annan, then the United Nations secretary general. His name: Sergio Veira de Mello. The 55-year-old Brazilian native was impossibly handsome, charismatic, smart, and effective, an ambassador descended from Mt. Olympus, with a record of successful conflict negotiations on United Nations assignments in hot spots stretching from Bangladesh to Bosnia. He should have been Annan’s successor. Instead de Mello died an agonizing death in the rubble of his office building in Baghdad, when a half-ton of explosives detonated beneath his window.

Greg Barker made a heart-wrenching, eye-opening documentary, “Sergio,” about the life and work of the man, which screened at Mountainfilm in Telluride 2009 and won the Audience Award. And, in a way, De Mello’s story is a prequel to the movie Barker brings to Telluride this year. One message from “Sergio” was clear – or should have been clear: if Al Qaeda came after us (or U.S.), the U.N., with its home base in the U.S., was a logical target too. But the U.N, like us., despite warnings, was not reading the tea leaves.

Greg Barker’s “Manhunt,” based on a book by Peter Bergen, is a documentary about the search for the man whose name twins with Al Qaeda: Osama Bin Laden. Barker brings “Manhunt” to the 35th annual Mountainfilm in Telluride, Memorial Weekend, Friday, May 24 – Monday. May 27.

Public Enemy #1, as seen in "Manhunt"

Public Enemy #1, as seen in “Manhunt”

“Manhunt” bookends with Kathryn Bigelow’s and Mark Boal’s Oscar-nominated “Zero Dark Thirty.” With its focus on an obsessed female CIA officer who refused to say die until the phantom became a man in a body bag, the Oscar-nominated film introduced audiences to the important role female agents played in the hunt. “Manhunt” picks up that thread and winds it into a tight pink ball.

Barker’s documentary makes it abundantly clear how many of those pursuing bin Laden from the mid-1990s onward were in fact women. In the film, we meet a top-secret team called “The Sisterhood,” analysts whose careful study of Middle East intel caused them to focus on bin Laden almost a decade before 9/11. We learn just how many reports these women filed with messages as urgent as the now famous “Bin Laden Determined to Strike the United States,” which CIA director John McLaughlin dismissed as “nothing actionable.” Quilting would have been more fun.

We know the ending, so “Manhunt” is all about  process: the women and men who work in the shadows and how they pieced together this particularly challenging jigsaw puzzle. There are no accidents in Barker’s movies – rather there are many, but none in the actual making of the film. His research is meticulous, his visuals sharp, spare and devoid of conventional emotionalism. The fact Barker leaves conclusions about the debate about information-gathering techniques that led to Abbottabad off the table, the ones graphically illustrated in “Zero Dark Thirty, suggests the director wants something from his audience. It appears we are meant to walk out of theatre asking ourselves what we would do, how far we would go, if our day job were hunting bad guys for a kill/capture operation.

A native Californian, Barker earned a BA in economics from George Washington University and a MSc in International Relations from The London School of Economics. He is a former war correspondent-turned-filmmaker. Previous projects include the aforementioned “Sergio” (short-listed in 2010 for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, winner of the Best Editing Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival); “Koran By Heart,” which screened at Mountainfilm 2011 (winner of the Top Jury Prize at the 2012 Banff Film Festival); and “Ghosts of Rwanda”(winner of the 2004 DuPont Columbia award and The Robert F. Kennedy Award for International Reporting).

To learn more, please click the “play” button and listen to my chat with the director.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.