One in Control
By Allan Maurer
Jehane Noujaim's documentary, "The Control Room," about the Arab cable news channel Al-Jazeera during the second Iraq-American war, sold out every seat at all screenings at New York's Film Forum in late May.
It won an award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham in April and is just one of a handful of extremely relevant, powerful documentaries grabbing both audiences and headlines in this much-troubled spring of 2004.
Along with Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911," Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me," and Errol Morris' "Fog of War," the "Control Room" dramatizes the real in ways that make so-called "reality TV" look like the ersatz baloney it is.
Noujaim, already a skilled documentary filmmaker, previously collaborated on "Start-up.com," with Chris Hegedus, one of the documentary's Cinema Verite brand names. That film startled us with its ability to catch the participants in candid and revealing moments, and "Control Room" does the same.
While it attempts to tell the story from the perspective of Al-Jazzera, in part as an antidote to the one-sided reporting we see in the United States unless we search for alternatives, it reveals a lack of objectivity on both sides.
Reality Conveys It's Own Irony
Reality always conveys its own irony.
Lt. Josh Rushing, the U.S. Army officer at CentCom, which handles all media from the U.S. side, puts enough spin on events that he would generate power if he held his arms out like windmill blades.
Yet a female producer for Al-Jazzera, who is clearly biased in favor of Iraq, asks when that country's army disappears, "Where is the army, the Republican Guard?" She cannot understand how an Arab force could dissolve without a fight in the face of the American assault.
Her acceptance of Iraqi propaganda and Rushing's spin cycle show that neither side sought or presented an objective point of view.
Although the reaction to an American missile crashing into Al-Jazzera's Babylon headquarters, killing one of its reporters, brings journalists together from both sides, the action comes across as one more example of the senseless loss of war.
The film catches players on both sides during candid moments. An Al-Jazzera producer, despite the channel's negative coverage of America and everything American, confesses he would take a job at an American news channel if offered so he and his family could participate in "the American Dream." Lt. Rushing experiences a transforming moment as he finally runs out of spin.
The most rational person in the film, burly Hassan Ibrahim, a former BBC reporter who covers CentCom for Al-Jazzera, suggests that America's people will themselves halt the Bush administration's rush to war.
It's a little disturbing to have this newsman from another culture seeing into the heart of ours and saying, they'll right themselves, these Americans.
We think he might be onto something there.
No one on either side suggested the Arab world is likely to do the same, unfortunately.
This film is now in general release nationwide. For more information on The Control Room, including the many awards it has won and future screening schedules visit ControlRoomMovie.com
© Copyright 2004 by Allan Maurer & Renee Wright. All rights reserved. Web Contact: RWright