Kidnapped and held captive for 101 days in South America, Mark Henderson has found peace by meeting one of his captors. Joe Shute reports.
A WEEK after his son was kidnapped by armed rebels deep in the Colombian jungle, Christopher Henderson, the mayor of the small town of Pateley Bridge, near Harrogate, made a prediction.
During the endless circuit of television, radio and newspaper interviews the family conducted as their home was besieged by the national media he told one reporter: "I fully expect him to write a bestseller as soon as he gets back, and then follow it up with the movie."
What the former RAF Wing Commander, now 65, and his wife Sharelle did not expect, was that they would be starring in it.
A documentary made by Mark Henderson on his 101 terrifying days of captivity, and a trip back to Columbia in 2009 to confront one of the kidnappers who got in touch with him over the internet a year after he was released, is being shown at film festivals across the world. Next month, it will be one of the centrepieces of the Sheffield Film Festival.
Called My Kidnapper, the film follows Mark and three fellow hostages as they return to the Sierra Nevada mountains in northern Columbia, where they were held by the armed Marxist group the National Liberation Army (ELN) after being kidnapped during a trek to the 2,500-year-old ruins of the Lost City in 2003. They were subjected to a terrifying three-month ordeal before being released on December 22 that year. Mark arrived home on Christmas Eve.
The film features emotional interviews with Mark's parents and fellow hostages, as well as a gripping confrontation with "Antonio" – a former kidnapper who has since left the group and wants to make amends for what he did and rebuild his own life.
Mark, a 38-year-old film-maker, and his family, hope the film will provide closure on a series of events that have haunted them for the past seven years.
"I'm certainly no Mother Shipton and usually I'm not very good with my predictions,"says his father Chris, referring to the North Yorkshire soothsayer when I remind him of what he said back in 2003, "but I'm pleased that one came true. I was fairly confident of Mark's state of mind and that he would hold up quite well while he was being held captive.
"But obviously it was also a very hard time for us of extreme grief and intense frustration as well. There was nothing we could do, and for at least a few weeks there was hardly any information about him at all. It stays with you and there is still hardly a week goes by when I don't bump into someone in the village and they ask how Mark is.
"We didn't mind being in the film but it really stirred up the emotion for us. It still comes back to me, particularly when I hear somebody else has been kidnapped. A lot of those old feelings come back. It will probably stay like this for ever. Of course, we were worried when he went back out there to do the film and meet one of the men who kidnapped him. But Mark is his own man and wanted to give this a go.
"There were still a lot of unanswered questions in Mark's mind, and by going back and making the film, he helped confront this."
Mark, a former pupil at Ashville College, Harrogate, first had the idea of making the film when, 11 months after being set free, he and his father met and had dinner with Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, the Catholic priest who helped to negotiate the release of the eight hostages.
The Monsignor told Mark that "Antonio" (one of the kidnappers) had seen him on television and wanted to get in touch with him. Mark gave his email address and three months later, he received a message. It started a five-year correspondence between the men before Mark and his fellow director Kate Horne, managed to raise the funding to make the film. They travelled out to the Lost City in July last year with a film crew and military escort – despite the fact that, since the kidnapping, the Foreign Office has advised against travel to
During the filming, Mark and fellow hostages Reini Wiegel, a German physiotherapist and two Israelis, Ido Guy and Erez Eltawil, relived their nightmare. They stayed in the camp where they were taken from their beds at 4.30am, followed the routes of the 18-hour daily marches deep into the jungle they'd been forced to endure, and visited the rat-infested huts they had been imprisoned in along the way. They also met the villagers who had been coerced into working with the rebels.
Finally, Mark and Reini were filmed meeting up with their former kidnappers "Antonio" and his girlfriend Camila, who had also got in touch with them via Facebook.
Mark said: "It was very hard dealing with all the emotions stirred up but I have spoken to psychologists since and they have told me I have had the most extreme sense of closure by confronting the person who kidnapped me. 'Antonio' was different to the other guards and much more intelligent. He was with us about two or three times over the course of our time in the jungle and we talked a lot together, but this time we met as equals. It was bizarre – when you are used to filming other people to spend four months editing film that features you yourself. I had become the subject and it was very hard reliving a lot of it. It was emotional but wonderful to go back to the country. People were so unbelievably friendly and grateful to us for making the film, but it also felt very strange and I shed a lot of tears.
"My parents knew I was always going to make the film but they didn't realise they were going to be in it as well until I said I'm coming up to visit and I'm bringing a camera. But making the film was important for them as well."
Mark suffered from post traumatic stress disorder following his release, and it has taken a long time for the psychological scars to heal. He is now doing well in his career, married his partner Paul last weekend and says the film has helped to put everything to rest.
He said: "I hardly slept in the days after my release, it was so overwhelming. I hardly left my parents' house, I just wanted to be safe. I would go out to walk the dogs in the countryside, but the rest of the time I just sat in the living room. There were hundreds of letters and Christmas cards, piles and piles of them, many from people I had never met. When I was first released, I had no clue about how much attention it had received and what my parents had been through, but it was lovely to see how the whole community had rallied together. Pateley Bridge is a small place and even now people look out for my parents. It has really restored my faith in humanity and has brought us a lot closer as well.
"Before I made the film I thought about the kidnapping every day. Now I am only having nightmares about what people will think of it."
The film is being shown in 10 countries including South Korea, America and Poland. But Mark's family are also hoping to put on a screening at St Cuthbert's Church in Pateley Bridge, which rang its bells in celebration and raised the flag of St George when news of his release first broke.
That should be one screening, where Mark need not lose too much sleep over what his audience will think.
My Kidnapper is being shown on at 12.15pm on November 5 at the Sheffield Odeon followed by a live question and answer session with Mark Henderson.
Tickets are available from The Showroom Box Office on 0114 275 7727.