Matvei Zhivov, Roger Singh, Andrew Moniz, and Rock Baijnauth (Canada, Canadian Spectrum)
Sunday, May 1, 9:15 p.m.
Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
Saturday, May 7, 4:15 p.m.
Cumberland Theatre (159 Cumberland Street)
Sunday, May 8, 9:00 p.m.
The Fox Theatre (2236 Queen Street East)
Mohamed Ashareh, a Somali-Canadian undergrad studying computer science, heads to his native Somalia to expose the inner workings of the country’s pirates by infiltrating their ranks. In a confusing, disjointed narrative (it seems nothing was left on the cutting room floor), Ashareh is ostensibly accepted as a high-ranking member of one vigilante gang before being sold out and arrested.
Ashareh’s naïveté and hubris make The Pirate Tapes almost intolerable to watch. A Westerner with a camera being milked for all he’s worth, Ashareh stumbles around Somalia shelling out bribe money indiscriminately into the corrupt system he’s supposedly trying to expose. Huddled back in what appears to be some Canadian university’s computer lab, the film’s production team eventually turns to Ashareh’s influential father, who uses his connections to undo his son’s cock-up. Ashareh clearly imagines the danger that he gets himself into as a heroic climax to dramatic action, when in fact it’s little more than a misguided blunder that should have been too humiliating to commit to film. Seeing The Pirate Tapes is like watching some silver-spoon-fed 22-year-old get bailed out of the drunk tank on daddy’s dime after a night of misguided shenanigans, only the night is several months long, and the drunk tank is an enigmatic vigilante authority armed with AK-47s. Oh, and did we mention that the film is set to a strange and inappropriate indie rock hipster soundtrack? Well, it is.
Through interviews with a few lucid experts, the film does do some basic work towards educating the viewer about Somali pirating. It also draws some attention to the dumping of nuclear waste in the ocean off the Somali coast—a topic that barely registers in the Western media and perhaps ought to have been the documentary’s focus. Ultimately, however, The Pirate Tapes fails to illuminate much more than the filmmakers’ cluelessness.
In this review we orginally referred to “Ashareh’s wealthy, influential father” using his resources to aid in his son’s release. Though the use of diplomatic connections is clearly mentioned in the film, the use of financial resources is not. We have updated the review to clarify this.