Cinema-Scene.com > Volume 6 > Number 24

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Director:
Jehane Noujaim

Starring:
Hassan Ibrahim

Release: 21 May 04
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Control Room

BY: DAVID PERRY

There was an article in The New Yorker last year about Al Manar, the satellite channel which openly praises Hezbollah and other Islamic terrorists. The article was especially insightful in its portrayal of the channel against the other satellite news available in the area, namely CNN and Al Jazeera. Long fed the anti-Al Jazeera rhetoric from the administration, I found the comparison odd: if the people who were willing to be interviewed for this story, those who were not particularly partisan towards the Arab extremists, considered Al Jazeera the least biased channel compared to Al Manar and CNN, why has the channel been decried for so long as supporting terrorism?

Jehane Noujaimís Control Room tries to answer this question, showing that Al Jazeera is merely a nice scapegoat for a group of people worried over its unwillingness to accept the Fox News party line on Israel, Palestine, Iraq, and Iran. In fact, based on the segments of Al Jazeera shown on the news as well as in the documentary, their allegiance seems to only be to the Arab people, not to any particular mindset. Their presentation of atrocities during Gulf War II werenít necessarily facilitated by hope that it made the American troops look bad. In the contrary, they were intent on showing the Arab people what was happening at ground level to their Iraqi brothers and sisters. In a world where the news of the night can be headlined by terrorist bombings, Al Jazeeraís presentation of violence is not that distant from the urban horror shown on many American news programs.

That Control Room has a case to make is quite apparent, but that doesnít necessarily mean that the case is made particularly well by Noujaim. She seems too willing to take everyone by their words, never doing any reporting in the process. Itís almost like a long commercial for the news organization, not a detailed look at its inner workings. In fact, her best stuff isnít from the people at Al Jazeera, but from the American serviceman who must serve as an envoy between the Pentagon and Al Jazeera -- his slow willingness to admit the inaccuracies of the propaganda machine he works for is astounding to capture in a film.

[Postscript: Soon after the release of the film, the administration admitted that some of the filmed material from Baghdad during Gulf War II was staged, something that would not likely have been admitted before Al Jazeera and Control Room presented the case against them. At the time of viewing the film, I was slightly skeptical, considering this to be a mere moment of casual conspiracy theorizing. That their premise was valid could be the most terrifying fact to come out of this film.]


©2004, David Perry, Cinema-Scene.com, 11 June 2004