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2012: The Kidnap Diaries

BBC Four, Thursday 26th April, 2012

“Dramatised account of film-maker Sean Langan’s kidnapping in 2008 while on a quest to become the first western journalist to film the Taliban training camps. In a bizarre meeting of East and West, the self-confessed adrenaline junkie strikes up an unlikely friendship with the deeply Islamic family holding him captive. As his captors become his hosts, he begins to question his own motives and discovers a common humanity across the vast cultural divide.” – Sean Langan is played by Douglas Henshall.

 

Review of The Kidnap Diaries

Kidnap DiariesAlthough it is hard to imagine a predicament more frightening – and hence more dramatic – than being held hostage, hardly any of the high-profile kidnap stories of recent years have been dramatised. Presumably this is because kidnappings involve a lot of sitting around, usually in the dark. In A Mighty Heart director Michael Winterbottom tried to get round the problem by telling the story of Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping from the point of view of his wife, played by Angelina Jolie. The result was an unfortunate combination of earnest and boring. The Kidnap Diaries (BBC Four) was less stagy, more bitter sweet, somehow more human. It told the story of how, in 2008, Sean Langan set out to be the first western journalist to film in a Taliban training camp. He was kidnapped and held hostage for three months instead. For this drama, based on his story, we were taken inside his head during his captivity, via flashbacks to him playing with this children, a devise which brought a sense of balance and depth to the narrative.

As played by Douglas Henshall, Langan seemed sympathetic and good-humoured. What made his story chilling was the way his Taliban captors were portrayed – they seemed quite sympathetic, too. Indeed it was a sense of their common humanity – Langan talked to them about his love for his children – that persuaded them to spare his life. One even sounded like a character from Lawrence of Arabia: “Bloody good stuff, Mr Langan.”

That we knew the ending already didn’t seem to compromise the tension. And it seemed to be about the right length, at one hour. It opened with Langan in a hotel room rehearsing to camera what his film was going to be about. His nerves were palpable, as was his vanity and ego – memories of his ex-wife joking about “The Sean Langan Award for Stupid Bravery”. The most moving scene came when his Pashtun captors allowed him to leave a farewell message on her answering machine: “I don’t want to scare you, but I might not get the chance again to tell you how much I love you.”

About a third of the way into The Kidnap Diaries, Langan tries to convince his captors that he is not a spy but rather an ordinary journalist, a hack who covers anything and everything. It was at this moment that dolphins popped into my head. Though I don’t think I’ve ever met him, many years ago I did commission him, over the phone, to write an article for this paper about rescuing dolphins off a beach in Cornwall. A true hack, indeed. Much braver than most, though.

© Nigel Farndale, The Telegraph, 27 April 2012

2012: Mark Lawson talks to Sean Langan

BBC Four, Thursday 26th April, 2012

In this in-depth interview Mark Lawson meets the award-winning journalist and filmmaker Sean Langan, whose kidnap by the Taliban in 2008 inspired BBC Four’s hostage drama The Kidnap Diaries. Langan’s professional life began as a TV entertainment presenter, but his investigative nose led him to document some of the most volatile and war-torn regions in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Armed with a camera and irrepressible courage, he has produced a series of enlightening documentaries including Afghan Ladies Driving School, African Railway, Langan Behind the Lines, Mission Accomplished and Fighting the Taliban.

Watch a short clip from Mark Lawsons’ interview with Sean Langan on the BBC Four website

2010: African Railway

28 April – New film ‘African Railway’ broadcast on BBC Four

“Stranded in the African bush when his train breaks down, journalist and film-maker Sean Langan watches as an elephant meanders past, just yards ahead. “Apparently, if you remain silent, they rarely stampede.” Cue a man noisily trying to kick-start the engine. The Chinese-built Tazara railway (AKA The Freedom Railway), running from Zambia to Tanzania, “once carried the hopes and dreams of post-independence Africa”, but is now in financial meltdown. Riding through spectacular scenery, Langan meets those struggling to keep it on track.” AJC / The Guardian

Read more about African Railway

2009: African Railway

October 2009 – Sean Langan begins work on BBC Four documentary about a railway line in Tanzania

“Thank God. I’m finally back in the land of the living, and back on the road, after a long absence spent staring into an abyss. After my release from Hotel Taliban last Summer I withdrew, mainly into the arms of my two boys, family and friends – but also, inadvertently, up my own arse/nose/bottle/youporn/ anything, infact, to not think about my three months in a dark room under threat of death by my Taliban captors. But after months of that realised I’d ended up in another prison of my own making, so stopped all of that and got back to life. Feels great. Have basked in the company of my children and got my life back on track. Now ready to start my romance with making documentary films again. But before I do, would just like to send a heart-felt thanks to all those who helped or who were worried about me during my ordeal, and apologies for not contacting you all. But extremely grateful nevertheless. About to start filming again. No war for me, at least not for a while anyway, and until my insurance premiums have come down and my boys grown up. BBC4 has commissioned me to make a documentary about a railway line in Tanzania; a slice of African-life, something heartwarming and heartfelt. And made me promise not to cross the border into Congo or Zimbabwe…..as if I’d cross a border into a dangerous place! Writing this from my hotel in Dar es Salam. Biggest danger I’ll face, apparently, are elephants on the railway track. Shouldn’t be a problem. I’m not in a hurry and happy to wait and watch the elephants go by. Feels great to be alive and in Africa – the cradle of humanity, and the birthplace of mine, and everyone else’s, original grandmother!” Sean Langan

Read more about the 2009 film African Railway

2008: Kidnapped

In March 2008, whilst filming in Afghanistan for Channel 4’s Dispatches series, Sean was kidnapped by a group with links to The Taliban… he was held for 3 months before finally being released on 21st June (2008). Below is a small selection of external links to news reports and articles related to his capture, and release.

 

• 6 December 2008 – Journalist Sean Langan tells of life in terror camp, escape from Taliban – For a harrowing three months as a Taliban prisoner in a Pakistani terror camp, journalist Sean Langan lived face to face with sociopaths threatening to behead him as they plotted against the West… www.nydailynews.com

• 29 June 2008 – C4 pays £150,000 to free kidnapped film maker from terror camp – Channel 4 paid a £150,000 ransom to secure the release of a documentary film maker who was held hostage for three months after trying to make contact with Al-Qaeda’s second in command… www.timesonline.co.uk (Hidden behind a pay-wall, unkown if it is still available)

• 28 June 2008 – British journalist Sean Langan tells of Taliban kidnap ordeal – Deep inside al-Qa’eda’s sanctuary high in the frozen mountains of Pakistan, a tribal council was scrutinising kidnapped British film maker Sean Langan and deciding whether he should live or die… www.telegraph.co.uk

• 28 June 2008 – ‘Freedom is the air we breathe‘ – The documentary maker Sean Langan tells Peter Beaumont about the three-month ordeal that saw him kidnapped and threatened with death in tribal Pakistan… www.guardian.co.uk

• 27 June 2008 – Kidnapped by the Taliban, Sean Langan kept sane by dreaming of kissing his sons goodnight – For the moment, adrenaline is the only thing keeping Sean Langan going. A week ago, he was still in the hands of the Taliban, incarcerated in a tiny room in the tribal wilderness of the Pakistan mountains, unsure if he would be beheaded. ‘I thought it would be a miracle if I got out of there alive,’ says the award-winning war correspondent, who was freed last Sunday morning after three months in captivity… www.dailymail.co.uk (Link no longer working)

• 24 June 2008 – Taliban captors release kidnapped reporter Sean Langan – The undercover journalist Sean Langan is back in the UK today after being kidnapped and held for three months by a group associated with the Taliban, his family said… www.independent.co.uk