The Pirate Tapes (2011) Review

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But I don’t want to be a Pirate

The Pirate Tapes (2011): 8 out of 10: I have an idea for a documentary. I will go down to Colombia and offer my services as a smuggler of cocaine. I will meet with the cocaine barons. Find one I get along with. Offer my services and start smuggling those kilos. But don’t worry I am going to secretly film all of this because I am not really not a cocaine smuggler, I am making a documentary about how to smuggle cocaine. Nothing could go wrong.

You know, as good as that example is, I feel it is missing a little something. Let’s try this. I will take fifty thousand dollars and fund a home invasion/ carjacking ring. I will get with a local criminal gang. I will buy them weapons and safe houses and go along with them on the home invasions and carjackings to learn the trade from the ground up. But don’t worry, I am secretly filming all this because I am making a documentary about the profitable world of home invasions and carjackings. Nothing possible could go wrong. Yeah, that is a lot closer.

Mohamed Ashareh took fifty thousand dollars to Somalia to get into the pirate business. A rich, spoiled Canadian whose family moved from Somalia when he was 10. He joins with the equally clueless Palmira PDC film company to join the Somalia pirates and get some undercover footage from the inside. There is a level of cluelessness and stupidity here that is almost admirable.

There were many complaints by critics that Mohamed Ashareh is not a good documentary filmmaker. I would add on that we soon see he is not a very good pirate either. In fact, outside of being a rich, spoiled kid with a very punchable face, it is hard to see any talents that Mohamed Ashareh possesses. That said, as misguided and clueless as he is, it takes real guts to go to war torn Somalia with a hidden camera and a bunch of money and to try to join the pirates. (To give you an idea how out of touch Mohammaed is, his first experience in Somalia is confusion that the airport does not have a taxi stand.)

As much as I have (and am going to) pick on the sheer stupidity of Mohamed Ashareh let us take a moment to allow his film company backers Palmira PDC (A company Mohammed found on Craigslist… enough said) to take some blame. They, after all, also thought this was an excellent idea. They never thought, hey, maybe there is a better way to expose a criminal gang than joining and funding the criminal gang in question. Also, someone put strange and inappropriate indie rock all over the soundtrack to this film and my suspects are the white Canadians in the editing booth, not Mohamed.

The Pirate Tapes spends a decent amount of time talking about Somalia’s problems. Focusing particularly on overfishing and toxic waste dumping. They paint the pirates as a response to this attack on Somalia’s sovereignty. This turns out to be a bit of nonsense as the film clearly shows the pirates don’t even attack ships in Somalia waters and are more interested in oil tankers than fishing vessels or small boats from Italy carrying toxic waste.

The Pirate Tapes spends even more time talking about how profitable piracy is. And what an excellent investment it is for westerners to fund their own Somalia pirate operation. I am really not exaggerating here. Mohamed explains how he will turn his fifty thousand dollars (A college fund/ gift from his father) into four million dollars. He has graphics and charts. We see the way he distributes his funds through different down line distributors and then he can recruit other investors and OMG it is an MLM scheme. As if the piracy wasn’t evil enough.

No, I am not trying to compare Somali pirates to LuLaRoe. I mean, the Somalia Pirates are not that bad. But like any MLM there seems to be a lot of people talking about how much money they make selling leggings (Highjacking ships) while sitting in their dirty double-wide trailer in Tennessee (Muddy, trash strewn, building with no electricity in Puntland).

Mohamed, who never really notices that the head pirate looks like he is living out of his car, once again shows his extreme level of cluelessness. He is so invested in his get rich quick scheme he fails to notice that he is surrounded by the devastating poverty of the people who have been doing this for years.

The Torontoist in their review said “Ashareh’s naïveté and hubris make The Pirate Tapes almost intolerable to watch.” and good lord that is true. I was ready to give this documentary a four out of ten and spend the entire review aghast at the entire concept. But sometimes a documentary accidently tells the truth. It turns out (I hope you are sitting down) that pirates are not trustworthy. I know… all my dreams shattered.

It also turns out that Piracy is against the law. (Again who knew). So when the head pirate gets arrested (the one that looked like he was living in his car) he starts naming names. And for the head of the entire pirate organization he gives the authorities the name of an evil Canadian financier and mastermind. Mohamed Ashareh.

So Mohammaed quickly goes on the lam, and with the airports inaccessible, he goes overland from Puntland to Somaliland. Mohammaed then learns about tribes. You see, in Puntland he was a member of the tribe. His father was actually a bigwig in the tribe (Hence why the family could move to Canada when he was 10). Somaliland is a different tribe. One that doesn’t take a shine to them Puntland boys. So Mohammed is facing the firing squad (Or machete guy; bullets are expensive) and is being accused (somewhat accurately) of funding piracy and terrorism.

The film abruptly shifts to some very white and very panicked Canadian filmmakers listening to The Smiths on their iPhones and trying to figure out how to call Somalia. Eventually Mohammed’s father bails his son out (shades of A Prayer Before Dawn). and Mohammed returns to Canada poorer but, if the footage of him smiling like a loon is any indication, not any wiser.

Still, this wonderful schadenfreude was enough to make me wholeheartedly recommend watching this misguided documentary which features, I mean this sincerely, some of the stupidest people I have ever seen.

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