Greetings again from the darkness. Depending on the subject, it’s not uncommon for documentaries to utilize archival video footage from 25+ years ago. What is unusual about co-directors Miles Hargrove’s and Christopher Birge’s film is that it relies almost solely on footage from that era … and all filmed by an amateur. This is really a video diary of the harrowing episode Miles and his family endured after his father was kidnapped and held hostage in 1994.
Tom Hargrove was an odd blend of agricultural scientist and journalist, and had lived with his family, wife Susan and two sons, in the Philippines for almost 20 years when he took a job with a non-profit organization requiring relocation to Cali, Columbia. One day in September 1994, Tom tried to beat the traffic by taking a back road to work. He was taken hostage at a FARC road block set up for “fishing” – the goal of catching someone of value for ransom. FARC was a guerilla force of the people’s rebellion, and used kidnapping-collecting ransom to bankroll their operation.
This situation put the family in a horrendous situation. Tom’s son Miles decided to film the process, mostly as a diary for this dad to watch upon his return, though none of them had any idea what they were about to endure for almost a full year. It’s difficult to imagine a more stressful time for a family, especially once Tom’s company announced they would not pay the $6 million ransom or be involved in the negotiations. With hundreds of kidnapping each year, the Columbian government had no assistance to offer, and the family’s FBI contact could only provide tips and guidance.
Miles’ video clearly shows the formation of an ensemble support group, including the Greiner’s who lived next door. There was strength in the communal approach, and this included both the radio negotiations with the captors, as well as the stress-relieving group dinners. It’s fascinating, frightening, and gut-wrenching to watch and listen as the negotiations take place. The tension is nearly unbearable, so just imagine what the family felt at the time. It’s as painful to watch the moments of hope as it is the lowest lows. The days and weeks and months of waiting are soul-crushing.
This is a true crime story as seen through the eyes of the victimized family. An ordeal that ultimately lasted 325 days, and required help from so many … including Uncle Raford in west Texas … is something that while we see it play out on screen, we can’t fathom having to live through. This family learned the definition of “proof of life”, and worked daily to maneuver their way through a world they knew nothing of. Miles dedicates the film “For my Mom and Dad”, and invites us along for the memories.
Streaming March 25, 2021 on Discovery+