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SPURLOCK, MORGAN – WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?

SPURLOCK – SPURRED ON TO SEARCH THE WORLD
Spurred on by the success of Supersize Me, Morgan Spurlock set off on a Middle East adventure in search of Osama bin Laden – and found more than he expected, he tells Andrew L. Urban.


Morgan was standing in the kitchen of his Brooklyn home in his underpants when he called the film sales agency, Wild Bunch, in Paris, with a hot new idea he had just had while watching television. “I just said I’ve got this idea for a doc [that’s what Morgan calls docos] about me trying to find Osama bin Laden ... and they just said OK, let’s do it.”

That’s when the feelings of elation and panic intersected, as he recalls on his visit to Australia to promote the film, which has been bouncing around festivals like a ricocheting bullet – from Sundance to Brisbane to Melbourne …. We meet up in Brisbane, where the film was chosen to open the 2008 film festival. The $3 million doco benefits from Morgan’s sincerity and his Mr Everyman journey around the Middle East is far less tricksy or contrived than you may have expected, after a menu of Michael Moore. And there is much for Americans, especially, to digest, including the fact that not all Muslims hate them.

“I was surprised by much of what we encountered,” he says. Morgan found resistance (almost everywhere) and open hostility (in Tel Aviv), he found ignorance (everywhere) and intolerance (almost everywhere), but he also found a universal desire for peace and calm, for children to grow up educated and healthy.

Morgan not only spoke to people in the street, but, symbolically enough, went inside to eat with them and listen. The result is entertaining and a little scary – but for reasons other than the obvious. The real problem Morgan uncovers is the unpalatable truth that misconceptions about each other across the globe tend to become accepted wisdom – with devastating consequences.

"no agenda when he set out, except to ask questions"

But Morgan, to his credit, had no agenda when he set out, except to ask questions. “My wife Alex had just got pregnant and as a soon to be father, I wanted to talk to other fathers and also to find out what sort of world my child is coming to …” It was a joint decision that he should indeed traipse around the world while Alex was pregnant, and we get to see her a couple of times in the film, reassuringly as it happens.

Morgan and his three brothers were keen dancers as kids, which would not seem worthy of note if it were not for the fact the Spurlock family lived in Parkersburg, a small West Virginian mining community, where boys and dancing were mutually exclusive terms. By age 12, Morgan had moved on to low budget filmmaking – or at least doing make up and effects, usually bloody and usually on his own body, much to his mother’s constant shock. Luckily for Morgan, both his parents and all his aunts were teachers, who happily put up with his learning curve.

And it was 22 years later, in 2004, that his first feature documentary, Supersize Me, cashed in his chips with a global gross of $26 million and an Oscar nomination. “If it hadn’t been for the success of Suspersize Me,” he says “I could not have called Wild Bunch and got the green light – whether in my underpants or fully clothed.” Wild Bunch had worked with Morgan selling the film around the world.

Morgan is an easy going yet thoroughly professional filmmaker who is generous with his information; at the Conversation/ Q&A after the Brisbane film festival opening night at which I acted as interviewer, he spent over an hour telling us all about his work and his life. He even told us how he walked into a bar one night and saw Alex, fell madly in love and came back after her shift ended at 4am to spend a few hours talking and getting to know each other.

Spurlock is also the executive producer and star of the reality television series 30 Days, a reality television show, in which Spurlock, or some other person or group of people, spend 30 days immersing themselves in a particular lifestyle with which they are unfamiliar (e.g. working for minimum wage, being in prison, a Christian living as a Muslim etc.), while discussing related social issues. Season 3 of 30 Days premiered on June 3, 2008. In Australia, the program is broadcast on Network Ten and Lifestyle Channel.

Morgan Spurlock graduated with a BFA in film from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 1993. Before making Super Size Me, he was a playwright, winning awards for his play The Phoenix at both the New York International Fringe Festival in 1999 and the Route 66 American Playwriting Competition in 2000.

He also created I Bet You Will which began as a popular webcast of five-minute episodes featuring ordinary people doing disgusting, unusual, or embarrassing stunts in exchange for money. Examples include eating a full jar of mayonnaise ($235), eating a "worm burrito" ($265), and taking shots of corn oil, Pepto-Bismol, lemon juice, hot sauce, cold chicken broth, and cod liver oil ($450 for all nine shots). The webcast was a success, with over a million hits in the first five days. The show was bought and aired by MTV.

"a new slant on everything to do with economics"

Next, he’s joining four pals to film a segment for the doco Freakonomics from Stephen Leavitt’s best-seller which puts a new slant on everything to do with economics. Spurlock’s assignment: to make the segment that shows how an individual’s name impacts on their life. Spurlock, by the way, is of Scottish origin and means curly hair.

Published August 14, 2008
 

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