The New York Post called Greg Shade a "daring Yank." Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a longtime friend, told CBS that Shade was the "Wild Bill Hickok of the frontier." The Wall Street Journal described him as "untiringly practical" and "a lone idealist." But Shade — a wealthy real-estate investor who in 2001 traveled to Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden — is, um, different from how he's been portrayed, says San Francisco filmmaker Daniel Gorman.
Gorman's short film about Shade, American Hero, has its world premiere at the S.F. Indie Film Festival on Feb. 17. It's a film that Shade probably doesn't want you to see.
Shade — a 6-foot-4 bear of a man with a thick salt-and-pepper beard – was living in New Mexico in 2002, just after he had returned from his mission in Afghanistan. He had filmed himself riding on camelback through Taliban-controlled territory, distributing thousands of "wanted" posters and T-shirts identifying terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.
"If you see these people, you want to catch 'em," Shade tells a group of laughing villagers in the film. "You want to grab 'em. If they try to get away, you shoot 'em."
Shade's wife, Roxanne, found Gorman's film editing business in the phone book and had him make copies of Dan Rather reporting Shade's story on CBS in 2002. Shade then asked for help editing nineteen hours of footage he shot in Afghanistan with the intention of creating a 20-minute documentary to show to Congress (Gorman isn't sure what Shade hoped to achieve). They enlisted a screenwriter, Chip Beasely, and started negotiations with a producer from the Discovery Channel.
While working on the project, Gorman visited Shade's home in Rio Rancho, which included a large shower fully encased in a fish tank and mosaic floor tiles arranged in the outline of a naked, large-breasted, spread-eagled woman. "At that point, I thought he was just eccentric," says Gorman, who splits his time between Sebastopol and San Francisco. It was when the two men traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit members of Congress, that things began to get really bizarre.
When Gorman arrived at their hotel room, Shade was "absolutely loaded," Gorman remembers. Shade also expressed concern that the CIA was watching them. Then he suggested they go to a strip club.
The next day, the two went to Capitol Hill and distributed copies of an initial version of their film to several congressmen. Shade told Gorman he'd see him later, because he had an underground meeting with the CIA. Eye scanners were apparently involved. "He felt he was a James Bond character," Gorman says.
Over the next four days in D.C., Gorman filmed Shade in their hotel room for the Discovery Channel documentary. But problems soon arose. Shade, an editing novice, had impossible demands for how the film should look. The two butted heads over musical selection (Shade was in favor of using songs such as Rod Stewart's "Forever Young"). It ended badly, Gorman says, with Shade telling Gorman that the CIA would rape Gorman's wife and kill him. Although Gorman is unmarried, he decided Shade was unstable and cut off the relationship.
Gorman put his film on the back burner for several years, until a friend suggested he make it into a short documentary and enter it in the S.F. Indie Film Festival. Though he questioned the ethics of doing so without Shade's approval, Gorman ultimately decided Shade's story was too important not to be told. He was mad that politicians like Rohrabacher and reporters were championing the efforts of a potentially homicidal madman.
SF Weekly was unable to reach Shade for comment. However, a journalist he befriended in Uzbekistan last year called on his behalf. Melik Kaylan, a freelance culture writer for the Wall Street Journal, said he had heard from one of Shade's realtors that the Weekly was trying to contact Shade. Shade is out of the country on a secret mission, possibly in Burma, Kaylan said, and apparently cannot be reached. A story about him (or a documentary, for that matter) might endanger his life, Kaylan continued, in an obvious attempt to dissuade me from writing the story.
Kaylan isn't the only one with a soft spot for Shade. Gorman acknowledges that Shade seemed like an intelligent, entertaining guy with the best of intentions. "He's the type of person you make a film about. You don't work on a documentary film with him. I learned that the hard way."
Gorman worries that Shade might hurt himself or somebody else. In one particularly telling scene in the film, a shirtless Shade discloses from his hotel bed that he's disappointed that the U.S. Army hasn't shut down heroin operations in Afghanistan. He thinks aloud about how they would look "like stupid fuckers" if he were to do his "duty."
"He goes himself and fuckin' murders all the bad guys," Shade says, sounding serious. "Kills Taliban right and left. Stops heroin production that adds up to a billion dollars a year. That's a nice way to end it."