The Confession documents the life of Moazzam Begg a British Muslim who was detained without trial on terrorism charges in Britain, Pakistan and Cuba. Director Ashish Ghadiali shows his recognition of the power of Begg’s testimony though a strikingly simple extended interview form. The Confession sees Begg powerfully recount a life that has been so tragically affected by the War on Terror. Through Begg, the personal provides a lens with which to comprehend the political. From the voice of a single victim of the Global War on Terror comes a plea for a more compassionate understanding of modern terrorism, one that demands an admission of the West’s instrumental role in its emergence.
For a film that is almost exclusively interview The Confession makes for unexpectedly gripping viewing. Begg’s experiences stretch across the world and seem to touch every recognisable landmark of modern terrorism. His testimony adopts a global perspective, allowing the viewer to understand the galvanising effects of the conflicts in Kuwait and Bosnia, life under the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the chaos of rebel fighting in Syria and Egypt. Begg’s persecution and detention is equally far reaching and illuminates places few have been from Bagram (the famous American Detention Camp in Pakistan) to Guantanamo Bay. His accounts of imprisonment and torture at the hands of allied security forces in these detention centres are devastating in their detail.
And yet The Confession is a film that feels local, even essentially British. It is rooted in Begg’s home of Birmingham, and in an identity that was forged by his experiences of British society. It is this dynamic of the global and the local, the vast and the particular that underpins why The Confession is so powerful, showcasing the potential for an individual story to illuminate an entire conflict.
But it is not just Begg’s extraordinary experiences that command our attention; it is how they are told. Begg is everything you could want in a storyteller. He is intelligent, sensitive and even seems to have a certain instinct for the cinematic. His recollections possess striking emotional literacy. Begg is able to pinpoint formative moments from his past and recapture his frame of mind. Such qualities adds fullness to Begg’s memories and causes The Confession to seem deeply concerned with questions of identity. At several key moments however, Ghadiali challenges Begg’s version of events. ‘You’re kind of withholding some critical details, so I’m interested in why you would spin it that way’. With this one sentence the relationship between viewer and narrator is utterly changed. Our grasp on truth is suddenly more fragile, and our relationship to Begg and to his story becomes infinitely more interesting.
Through Begg’s retelling of a life so thoroughly entangled with the War on Terror, and aided by the inclusion of his appearances on countless political talk shows, he begins to craft an argument. Begg rejects the supposed innocence of the West in the formation of modern terrorism and instead exposes a broken system. He finds in the disastrous foreign and internal policy that sanctions violence and torture, a driving force for radicalisation. Memorably he cites the fact that 17/25 ISIS leaders were imprisoned at Bagram Detention Camp and ISIS hostages now appear in the same orange jumpsuits the American’s had forced them to wear. Begg’s argument is complex, compelling and full of nuance. You may not agree with his politics but in Moazzam’s words ‘there must always be space for dialogue.’
Where can you find it?
It is available On Demand for a few $$ on all the normal platforms.
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