Making the film
MARK:: During the first few days of the kidnapping the whole thing felt like a film, being marched by men with guns across mountain passes, it just didn't feel real. I don't know if it was just my way of containing it and understanding it, but for that first week in my mind it played out like a thriller. I pictured helicopters bursting across the horizon to save us, imagined the soundtrack, the sweeping shots of the mountains. It sounds ridiculous now, but I retreated into a fantasy world to deal with what was happening around me. By the end of the first week, I'd come crashing down to earth when the reality sunk in that we weren't getting out of here quickly, that we weren't going to be rescued, that we might be here for a very long time.
Over the next three months, I spoke to several of the guards about making a documentary about them and the situation in the mountains. Part of this was to endear myself to them and partly I was trying to find something positive in a very negative experience. I offered to come back and film the group in the mountains, to shadow them, but this time as their guest, not their prisoner. They even promised me more food and a donkey to carry my equipment. The person I'd discussed it with the most was Antonio, the most intelligent and sympathetic of our guards.
But the moment I stepped onto the helicopter to freedom a switch went off in my head and I thought there was no way I would ever come back.
KATE: I first met Mark back in 2004, about 6 months after his release. I was researching a book on Colombia and was fascinated by his story. It was midway through recounting his kidnap ordeal that he took me by surprise; "Can I ask you a favour? This may sound strange but I've just received an email from one of my kidnappers, Antonio. It's in Spanish and I'm not sure what he's saying, do you think could you translate it?"
How could I refuse?
I hope that you are well in body and spirit. We're so happy to hear about you from Monseñor Hector Fabio, he gave us your email.
MARK: I'd met with the Monseñor in London about 6 months after our release. In Colombia the majority of hostage negotiations are done through the Catholic church and the Monsenor was the main negotiator in our case. As my dad and I were saying goodbye to him after dinner, he said that someone I knew wanted to contact me. He asked me if I remembered a guard called Antonio. I knew immediately who he was talking about, the one guard I had struck up a "friendship" with. The Monseñor asked if I would mind if he passed on my email address. I didn't hesitate in saying yes. It was another few months before the first email came through:
I heard that you published your diaries, I hope that you wrote good things about Colombia, not everything is bad here. I hope before you traveled home you managed to buy some of the books and films that I recommended. We watched your arrival home in England on the TV and it seems that you've turned into stars in the media.
I wanted to tell you that we are trying to get out of Colombia as it's very difficult to live here, you can imagine our situation. I hope that at the end of the year we can travel to a neighbouring country and there I hope to set up home with Camila. When we get there I will let you know where we are so you can come and visit us and let's see if I can help you make those documentaries about Latin America that we talked so much about.
Send our regards to Reini and Asier and tell them to write to us and you too. Tell your parents and friends that all the cards and magazines that they sent you, including the mint chocolate made it here but that I was in charge of giving them to you and I couldn't make it to where you were, but they were never lost and was kept safe and maybe one day I'll get them to you.
Best wishes and luck,
PS - Mark please don't let anyone else know that you're talking to me.
KATE: As Mark and Antonio bandied emails so the idea of making a documentary came into the equation. Antonio agreed almost immediately, on the proviso we would keep his identity disguised through fear of reprisals. For Mark, as a television producer and director, a film seemed the most natural way for him to explore the reasons why he was going back to Colombia, why he wanted to meet Antonio and indeed why it was so important for Antonio to meet with him.
MARK: Over the years my feelings about the kidnapping had changed. It had become a story that I told. It was only when I saw people's reactions to me recounting having a gun pointed to my head or marching through the night to escape the army, that I realised this wasn't an ordinary story. Over the years I'd almost forgotten a lot of what we'd gone through, the constant fear, the uncertainty, the utter despair, the cruelty we experienced and the depths of depression we all suffered. What had also changed over time were my feelings towards Antonio. Though they were infrequent, I had become used to his emails appearing in my inbox. It was only when I told friends that I was in touch with my kidnapper, that I was reminded how weird this was. I wanted to understand our relationship.
Very early on, I talked to my fellow hostages about returning to Colombia and Reini, Ido and Erez jumped at the chance. Erez told me he wanted to know that he could be safe, to stand in the one place where he'd had everything taken away from him and feel secure. Ido wanted to be reminded of the person he was back then. For Reini, the memories had always been there, but I think she hoped that going back would allow her to process them and lay some of them to rest. In the end we all went back for different reasons, but we were all adamant on doing it and doing it together.
KATE: Filming however, would prove problematic; while Antonio and Camila had given themselves up to the authorities when they left the mountains, neither had admitted involvement in the kidnapping, a crime that carries a hefty custodial sentence in Colombia. Antonio and Camila had to trust us but equally we had to trust them. We had very real concerns; this couple had left the guerrilla organization and were living a new life, but had they really renounced their old ways? Could this meeting possibly be a set up?
MARK: Before traveling to meet Antonio and Camila, we returned to Colombia and to the mountains where we were held. I felt this was an integral part of the story and somewhere, as the years had passed, that I had felt I needed to come back to.
KATE: On the first part of the filming leg we helicoptered and hiked our way up into the Sierra Nevada mountains of Colombia with Mark, Reini, Erez and Ido. Though the army protection was there to guarantee our safety, just their presence made me feel uneasy. But I was more concerned with the psychological state of the former hostages. We were taking four people back to the point of trauma and no one could be sure of how they would react. Yes, it was going to be tough but all of them were committed to going and I think none regretted their decision.
MARK: The moment we stepped off the helicopter I knew we'd made the right decision to return. It was almost like we had unfinished business with this place. But it was incredibly emotional to be back. That first night we slept in the hut that I was taken from, and I even insisted on sleeping in the exact same bed that I'd slept in six years ago. A mistake, I'll admit now: I didn't sleep a wink. I just lay there staring into the darkness as the moon and jungle created shadows across the doorway. Every time I saw movement, I thought the kidnappers were coming back to get us.
The next few weeks were some of the most intense I've ever experienced. We met all the people involved in our kidnapping. From the army who were chasing us to the women we were supposedly held for, from the guides who were with us when we were kidnapped to the priest who worked tirelessly negotiating our release. Some of these people appear in the film, some don't - all of their stories were fascinating and gave us a different perspective on what had really happened.
KATE: I traveled to meet Antonio and Camila and found a picture of domestic bliss: a cosy apartment, paintings of their native Colombia adorning the walls, over excited kittens running amok in a sitting room crammed with books that betrayed these former guerrillas' socialist views. They voiced their real concerns about being filmed, even with their identities disguised, so why were they doing this? "Because we owe this to Mark and the others, they deserve an explanation".
Perhaps there was some cowardice on Antonio's part, not wanting to meet the Israelis. But the Israelis had moved on. It was Reini and Mark who needed an explanation for the kidnapping and for whom that face-to-face meeting was so important. Their time with Antonio and Camila after six years offered them a kind of relief. All the anger - Reini's court case with the German government and the pain caused to their families was now focused into direct questions for Antonio. And he got a grilling!
MARK: We started interviewing him at 7 o'clock at night and didn't finish till seven or eight hours later. There was so much we wanted to know. When I offered to stop and resume in the morning, Antonio insisted we carry on. It was obvious that this was all he could offer us. This was his only way of apologising, his atonement for what had happened.
I think in those hours he learned what the kidnapping meant to us, what it meant to our families and how it had affected out lives. For me, I learned everything I wanted to know from the one man that held the answers.