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The Pirate Tapes follows a young Somali/Canadian Mohamed Ashareh as he uses his father’s political influence and $20,000 to buy his way into a pirate cell in the troubled African nation. With camera in hand he poses as a liaison between a wealthy American investor and the pirate bosses. The footage chronicles his day to day exploits with dangerous and desperate men, not only exposing the pirates and their motives but examining the government corruption, overfishing, toxic waste dumping and money making schemes that have added fuel to the pirate fire over the last few years. The documentary follows his dangerous quest and showcases the unvarnished reality of the world famous situation in Somalia.

Surrounded by a constant gaggle of sub-machine guns and murderous raiders Ashareh delves deeper and deeper into the convoluted underworld. The danger of his situation always looming, building ceaseless tension and anxiety. The situations that Ashareh gets himself into in the name of this film is astounding. You have to marvel at his resolve and cool headed interactions with lawless marauders. The tension in some of the circumstances is almost too much to bear leaving you wondering why he is still risking his life by keeping the camera rolling. It is all worth it because this film pulls your eyelids way open. The environment in which these pirates operate is a far more complex web than a simple case of defending their overfished waters. It has become a multi-million-dollar enterprise funded by mysterious American investors and ignored by the military and by secretly endorsed by the government.

The film is very watchable considering a great deal of it is based on hidden camera or clandestine footage. The sheer gall of Ashareh in his dealings with the pirates starts out as compelling but slides into frightening. Though Ashareh goes to great lengths to uncover the true story the film leaves you asking questions that go unanswered. Considering the peril Ashareh finds himself embroiled in those answers are probably better left unanswered, at least for now.

The situation that seemed so clear at the beginning of the film becomes convoluted when more and more rocks are turned over. These former fishermen, who garner a great deal of sympathy for the loss of their livelihood, develop into frightening and unappealing criminals by the end of the film. There is nothing simple in Somalia which takes on a wild west atmosphere. There is frustratingly little resolution but in the end that seems to be the point of the film. The documentary is not meant to resolve anything but highlight the reality of a misunderstood and lawless situation. Thanks to the efforts of the producers and Ashareh himself, The Pirate Tapes does this with gripping success. It touches deep emotions and frightens as it informs. A moving and captivating film from beginning to end.

The Pirate Tapes is playing as part of Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival on Sunday May 1 at 9:15 PM at The Bloor Cinema, Saturday May 7 at 4:15 PM at the Cumberland Theatre and Sunday May 8 at 9 PM at The Fox Theatre.