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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
All too often in today's world, truth is forced to take a back seat to
partisanship. To a combatant who has taken up arms in the fight of
left-vs.-right and red-vs.-blue, it doesn't make much difference what's
true or not. If the other side said it, it's not true, or at the very
best it's either a distortion of the truth or part of some insidious
scheme to appear legitimate. Truth has been reduced to a weapon in this
fight, used to pick apart every statement of the opposing team, and
misconstrue it to mean something that wasn't intended at all. All this
partisan bickering has led to real truth going largely unnoticed, often
to grievous consequences.
"Control Room" is all about the quest for truth, in this case as it pertains to the Arab news network Al-Jazeera, which is often portrayed by American politicians and news outlets as being fiercely anti-western. In truth, this reputation surrounds them mostly because they report on things that the American government would rather people not see. They've shown the US military bringing people in from elsewhere to stage pro-coalition events, interviews with Iraqis that vehemently hate the coalition, and video footage of civilian victims of American bombings. The American military even bombed an Al-Jazeera base because of this, killing a reporter, because they were defying a ban on media coverage of the war.
Although many Arab extremists hate the US without question, this film goes to great lengths to show that these are not the people Al-Jazeera caters to. What really stood out to me was a scene in which one of the reporters arranged a video interview with a correspondent in Washington. The American man was very critical of his country's government and insisted that the war was only about oil, and that the US was only trying to exploit Iraqis. As soon as the interview ended, the reporter immediately berated the man who had arranged it, insisting that this American knew nothing of his government and he had no concept of the truth of the matter.
This film is an earnest look into the minds of all involved in the Iraqi War. It paints a much broader picture than any news segment covering this subject ever could. One of their disputes with the coalition occurred on account of the Al-Jazeera coverage of Iraqi civilians that were killed and seriously injured by various US bombings. The American military has been very critical of the news network for showing this footage, claiming that it is slanted and biased against Americans. But this is about something greater than partisan bias, this is about portraying the truth.
I couldn't disagree more with the review from MA posted here. This film
is not "useless." As a matter of fact, any film that is outside the
"consolidated media" we have here in the U.S. is something that should
be seen. This film is valuable because it is one of the few (that has
made it to the main stream) out there that FINALLY speaks from a
different perspective. This alone makes it worth watching.
The interviews in the film are well done and poignant. The film makes many points about objectivity in journalists covering a war and the propaganda machine that can so easily get rolling.
Our local art house showed this film over "Going Upriver," a documentary about John Kerry's service in Vietnam in what became a local controversy. As a political liberal, I was somewhat disappointed that occurred, in spite of my own reservativions with Kerry, since that film was not made by as a blanket endorsement or funded by the Kerry cmapaign. But, as a Turkish-American, I could not be more delighted that this film was its' replacement. Directed by an Egyptian-American, this is a revealing film which shows both how the Arab world saw the invasion of Iraq- some thing no one will see on Fox News- and, the restraints that all journalists had to follow while covering it. I think another telling aspect of the film was that it showed an army personnel who had to give our government's take for media in the Arab world as being someone with genuine concerns for the Arab people and not just a mere 'yes-man' which is sadly not indicative of most people in his awkward disposition. I think anyone who sees this film will better understand why people in Istanbul, Cairo, Damascus, Tunis and other parts of the Muslim and Arab world did not trust George W. Bush's intentions for war and why this war will become a greater source of controversy in the region as its' close becomes even more remote and distant. I felt that many Americans celebrated 'victory' way too early, and this film presents yet another reason why we still have a long, long road ahead of us.
Apart from 'weapons of mass destruction', the most odious expression to
emerge from the war in Iraq is 'embedded journalism'. That's an
oxymoron if ever there was one. You would think being embedded would
ensure reporters, not only protection from hostilities, but a front row
seat and a bird's-eye view. But it seems the American media have merely
ended up with tunnel vision. And the only thing being protected is the
'The Control Room' is a salutary antidote to this government propaganda masquerading as reportage. Al-Jazeera is the Arab world's most widely watched news network. It emerges here as a beacon of truth and honesty, balance and objectivity, logic and sanity. And so does director Jehane Nouhaim.
The film invites obvious comparisons with Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 9/11'. In my opinion, Nouhaim's documentary is the better of the two. Nouhaim has a very definite point of view. But she is not aggressive and shrill like Moore, who clearly has an ax to grind. (As stated in my review of 'Fahrenheit 9/11', Moore is as much of a propagandist in his own way as Bush, Rumsfeld and their ilk.)
Nouhaim does not spell everything out for her audience. She allows her film and its protagonists to speak for themselves. She lets the viewers draw their own conclusions. Her most powerful weapons are not vitriol and bile. Instead, she uses gentle humor and, above all, sublime irony.
'What's past is prologue,' wrote the Bard. Indeed, 'The Control Room' owes much of its impact to our knowledge of later events. This knowledge serves as a counterpoint to the fatuous and disingenuous assertions of U.S. officials.
It must be recalled that the film was made before the shocking revelations about Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo is mentioned, but the treatment of detainees there pales beside the degradation of Abu Ghraib. Private Jessica Lynch is also mentioned as a martyr and poster child for the U.S. military. Since Abu Ghraib, however, it is Private Lyndie England, with a naked Iraqi on a leash, whose image sums up the war in our minds.
This is the intellectual baggage we bring to Nouhaim's film. It saves her the trouble of having to dot the i's, cross the t's, and fill in the blanks.
We do learn a few new and highly instructive things. Like how the U.S. military claimed to cross bridges to Baghdad that didn't even exist. Or how it brought in non-Iraqis to 'joyfully welcome' the American liberators. In short, it played on the ignorance of audiences in the States to paint a glowing picture of victory for their troops.
But the U.S. military is capable of its own brand of ignorance. Like not realizing that a 'cheering crowd' was actually chanting, 'God damn Bush, God damn Bush!'
We do feel compassion for at least one American military official: Lieutenant Josh Rushing, the poor sap responsible for being Bush's journalistic front man in Iraq. You sense that the young man is torn between his duty to his government and his country, and his duty to the truth. On the one hand, he worries about giving too much information to the enemy. On the other hand, he worries about not giving enough to the folks back home. He wants to paint an objective picture, but realizes that he is putting spin on the news in spite of himself. He is a Hamlet of a man, and like Hamlet, 'words, words, words' are his nemesis.
Nouhaim's film makes it clear that the control room of the title is not Al-Jazeera. Rather, it is Central Command, the American news center for the war in Iraq. Only now, thanks to Al-Jazeera and Nouhaim, it no longer controls the news.
An overall very interesting documentary,yet it kind of lacks a clear
point. Yes the US military lies through its teeth, yes they try to
manage the information, yes Al Jazeera is partial, but nothing is
What amazed me what Lt.Rushing's evolving conscience throughout the movie. I wish all pro-war people could have the guts to put themselves out there too and envision another point of view the way he did. I read that he got in serious trouble after this documentary. For once, a genuine military press officer: it deserves praise. Congratulations to you mister Rushing.
Saw this documentary at the Film Festival in Edinburgh prior to its
release on British TV. If you are interested in the war reporting on
Iraq and Al Jezeera at all, see this movie by top director of
Startup.com. Very upsetting stuff but also gets at the heart of the
difficulty of 'objective' reporting (even when there is a will to be
objective, which of course there isn't always).
One of the producers (who works for the Beeb) was at the EIFF screening and said how Fox and various US news channels are now issuing retractions about their bias during the war. Whilst not all the Al Jezeera reporters admit to being capable of avoiding bias, most of them and the channel's producers seem very committed to truth in reporting.
The programme also casts doubt on several 'official' U.S. stories that are no longer of major interest but were accepted as gospel at the time - a bridge they had taken on a river that has no bridges - the 'Iraqi' supporters who marched and toppled the statue of Saddam - were they brought in by the U.S. from outside? Iraqis suggest they can recognise other Iraqis and these were neither Iraqis nor had they Iraqi accents. The shooting of the Iraqi news reporter and the simultaneous 'accidental' strikes on three news services (inc Al Jezeera) shortly before this publicity coup are particularly harrowing.
This is a brilliant and compelling insight into the Arab view of current events. One of the most striking features is the extent to which the Al Jazeera reporters go to present diverse opinions, and the amount of sympathy and respect they still have for America. Rumsfeld accuses it of selective reporting, but the truth is it is not selective enough for his liking - insisting instead on continuing to show the ugly reality of the US action in Iraq rather than the fantasy version the US administration would have us believe. Al Jazeera has already lost one reporter killed in what appears almost certainly to have been a calculated act of intimidation by the US military. The Al Jazeera staff deserve recognition for their courage and their determination to pursue two essentials for true freedom and democracy - free speech and an informed public.
Control Room is an exceptional documentary about Aljazeera, the
independent Arab news network. It is a far more important film than
Fahrenheit 9/11. In comparison, it could be said that F9/11 provides an
overview while Control Room hits at some specifics. However, it is more
than that. Control Room presents viewers with a glimpse of the war in
Iraq from the vantage point of Aljazeera. Because Aljazeera is the most
watched news source in Arab societies, the film is an opportunity for
the viewer to put themselves in the shoes of the average Arab citizen.
The film is around 80 minutes of interviews. The contrast between the representatives of Aljazeera and the American journalists and soldiers was striking. While the people from Aljazeera are intelligent and thoughtful, the Americans come off as sadly misinformed to the extent that they have no concept of why the reporter from Aljazeera would ask combative questions.
At a time when it is imperative that Americans take a step back and humbly survey the world, Control Room is an important start. The film is valuable viewing for anyone from university professors of media or who study the Middle East, to 14-year-old conservative children, to journalists of every level, to stay-at-home parents. It's message goes beyond the current situation in Iraq. It is a universal message of trying to understand the other people we share this world with and the continual striving for truth.
Although I don't speak Arabic, I have had Arabic-speaking students and friends for many years. Additionally, my background and interests in journalism, visual communications, sociology, anthropology, and international studies make me a "hard sell". This movie rang so true I was stunned. It will become a classic, "required" documentary for a myriad of courses, I have no doubt. Content-driven material pleasingly presented in a visual medium is hard to come by. What a gift to civilization's future Al Jazeera is, and Control Room gives English-speaking viewers a glimpse of understanding. I'll leave to others a discussion of the technical and logistical wonders this movie represents. I just want to be one of the predictors of its enduring greatness.
Maybe one of the most important films I've ever seen. Unlike Fahrenheit 9/11, I really would recommend this to people of all political persuasions. No matter how you feel about the war in Iraq, you will be changed by this movie. Experiencing this movie is a bit like going through the looking-glass: you will suddenly see America's actions through the eyes of others. It is the side of the story you aren't hearing, and won't hear unless you leave the U.S. I was pleasantly surprised to find it non-judgmental: no agenda, just facts. Watch it and decide for yourself--just be sure to watch it! (Oh, and don't be afraid if you are Republican-leaning: it is not offensive and will still fascinate you.)
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