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|Index||96 reviews in total|
In 2005 it is hard to open a newspaper and not find something about
both Silicon Valley and the Middle East. But despite the essential role
of these spaces and the issues that surround them, despite the way they
truly frame today's world as it races ahead while grappling with
perennial conflicts, it is hard to get a candid slice of what it means
to survive in these two worlds.
Thank you Jehane Noujam. This director's first two films have done what all modern cinema, whether doc or not, should do. That is, tell stories that should be told, not those that audiences want to hear. This is a responsibility that has been confronted in a deliberate and penetrating manner in both Startup.com and Control Room. I recommend these films to anyone that would benefit from a better understanding of today and tomorrow, namely everyone.
Having known many Arabs and Iraqis over the past four decades, I would
say Al-Jazeera reports pretty much the way my friends from the Middle
East think. Does anyone actually believe that if Al-Jazzera did not
exist, Arabs would have a totally benign view of United States Middle
Eastern foreign policy and our invasion of Iraq? I doubt it.
The BBC reporters, as well as those from Al-Jazeera, were able to find their way to Iraqi hospitals to report frequently on civilian casualties. Obviously American reporters did not.
When the invasion began, the film showed Al-Jazeera staff as well as Arab people in the street in disbelief that the U.S would bomb a city of five million; they were worried about all of the innocent people who would be killed and hurt; so did most anti-war people around the world. At that time, I heard some conservative commentators even denying that Baghdad was that large or that Iraqi oil reserves were the second largest in the world - to throw Bush's war in a somewhat better light.
Control Room is a documentary covering key figures within Al Jazeera
just prior to and during the invasion of Iraq. It is a refreshing
reminder that a documentary can make its point without someone
whispering in your ear what you should be thinking. In Control Room,
the main characters are in front of the camera, and they are very
Prior to seeing this movie, my perception of this news network, the number one network in the Middle East, was quite colored to the negative. Much of the content they broadcast struck me as anti-American, and I figured their editorial stance must be as biased as Fox News.
Shortly into the film though, I was stunned to see one of the main personalities express faith in the American system of democracy and openness. He truly believed in the American people. Through-out the film he also criticizes the insistence of the U.S. to democratize Iraq at gunpoint.
The running theme through-out is the management of information by the U.S. military. When is the presentation of this information news versus propaganda? What does it mean to be "Fair and balanced?" Through the lens of Al Jazeera cameras and eyes of its reporters, events and images we took for granted during the war take on a whole new light. Unlike the western media outlets, they did not bury the "human cost" of Iraq for both sides.
At the end of this skilfully filmed and edited documentary my perspective on Al Jazeera had completely changed. What is propaganda? What is news? What is fair-and-balanced? I think Al Jazeera may know better than most. But don't take my modest attempt at objectivity for granted. Watch the film for yourself and decide.
Control room did a good job of trying to see all sides of the
situation, be it Al-Jazeera, CentCom, The US Military, or the Iraqi
citizens. If you are looking for an open-minded movie about the war,
this is definitely a good choice.
CentCom Director Rushing, throughout the movie, meets with various members of the press from all sides in an effort to understand how all sides see the situation.
Also, the directors made sure factor in the idea that within Al-Jazeera there are dissenting opinions. One reporter talks about trading in the Al-Jazeera Nightmare for the American Dream, while another, when talking about the US Military, says "Democratize or we will shoot you."
If you can, see this movie before the 2004 Presidential election.
This is a quite amazing film. The director has persuaded Al Jazeera to
allow her access to their control room in Dohar, Qatar throughout the
Iraq War. She does not appear herself but uses the words of the Al
Jazeera staff, the Americans and other journalists to present by far
the most balanced picture of the war I have yet seen.
Al Jazeera is under attack from all sides - from reactionary Arab states and from the Americans - because they show the facts of war rather than the distorted picture that the protagonists want to portray. The Al Jazeera staff are Arabs and so are obviously pro-Arab - but they try desperately hard to be as objective as they can, despite condemnation from the meretricious Rumsfeld, contrasted very effectively with a young, decent American army press officer. The film is low key most of the time - and all the better for that. But there is real tragedy when the Al Jazeera Baghdad office is bombed by the Americans and you share with the staff their frustration when they can no longer report from the front line. The familiar highlights of the war are looked at with fresh eyes, and given a new twist, making the post-film events in Iraq seem far more likely than we in the West expected after the capture of Baghdad. An outstanding documentary.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the last few years, I'd wondered about al Jazeera. By focusing on
the war dead and by giving bin Laden a medium, Jazeera looked like a
mouthpiece for the standard anti-American/Israeli/imperialist diatribe.
But they'd also antagonized Arab governments, giving it some
credibility, and I couldn't tell how they portrayed murderers like bin
Laden and al-Zarqawi who appeal to those disaffected Arabs who despise
all existing governments.
This movie gives excellent insight into al Jazeera. First and foremost, these guys are journalists. When the cynical, burned out anchor discovers that the American he's interviewing is a mindless mouthpiece for the anti-s, he ends the interview almost immediately and reams the staffer who lined him up. When the fat, dark-skinned reporter talks about Arab scapegoating, he says something like, "When a water pipe breaks in Damascus, it's the Israelis' fault."
But these guys are also Arabs, so they really convey the shame of watching an Arab capital fall without a fight, and even the fat reporter, an ex-BBCer, can't help but link Israel/Palestine with U.S./Iraq even though he knows westerners don't see it that way at all. And their main perspective on the war is the human, mostly Arab, cost of war, not weapons of mass destruction, hence their refusal to abide by the western media's gentlemen's agreement to refrain from showing corpses.
One more plus: in lesser (heavier) hands, the U.S. captain would be a two-faced propagandist for the Bush administration. In this movie, he's a real person trying to explain the American side and see the Jazeera perspective.
The one major disappointment I had was with the insinuation that the U.S. military targeted al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV when their reporters were killed. I find that hard to believe, but not impossible. What would give that some credibility would be some good investigative journalism. That work might be more than this movie or Jazeera can handle, but at least let the U.S. military voice a flat-out denial of such targeting.
The polar opposite of Moore, this was fairly well shot. I was surprised
at the amount of attention that was paid to every detail in the making
of this film. If you waited for a chance to see a different side of
things, this is it.
Her previous film (startup.com) was fun, but it didn't carry any significant agenda, unless you consider the epitaph for .com era an agenda. This one is definitely with a political twist, but it is a fairly balanced one too. Both sides of the issue are documented, and presented. She doesn't pass any judgment, however, letting you decide. If there ever was an encyclopedia of how documentaries should be made, this is it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Recently in my English class, we read "Living-Room Wars," by David D.
Perlmutter that discussed how most people gain information on rather
large topics like contemporary wars from sitting on their couches in
their living rooms, watching the television set. In his essay,
Perlmutter describes the term "living-room war" not as "physical
proximity - battle that can be smelled and felt a few inches away but
the para-proximity enabled by modern communications technology,
especially the satellite" (Perlmutter 525). They see bloody drastic
images of men fighting other men with brief captions like "live" and
'up close and personal" so they think they are experiencing war for
He also acknowledges the great influence newscasters have because they act like subjective filters that restrict the public's view of war and narrow or even sometimes make the interpretations the public have. What the public sees on the news channels is what they are told is important and think is important because that is what is being shown. He describes this as a "circular, self-limiting system and a conflation of communal enlightenment and ignorance" (Perlmutter 529).
A recent documentary, "Control Room," thoroughly studies the differences between the Arab news network Al Jazeera and the American news networks stationed in Iraq at the same time. The movie shares the different viewpoints of United States and Iraq. Iraq think United States is there to gain control while United States is there to hopefully maintain control. Although, I can not blame Al Jezeera for feeling invaded by the American news networks. The movie shows that all the major American news shows have rooms stationed there in hopes of filming the most recent and important news stories.
Perlmutter discusses a problem of how reporters will inundate a foreign land where American troops have been sent to fight or intervene. "The sheer number of journalists committed to one story means that any other news is largely impossible to cover no cameras are available for disaster elsewhere in the world once the global press corps has been committed to one site" (Perlmutter 539).
The movie goes on to explain how biased both the news networks really are. For example, Al Jazeera has commercials showing United States invading their land followed by pictures of a stranded baby and then dead bodies. The news network from United States may show images of Iraqi men under the control of Saddam Hussein killing and invading the homes of their own people. The movie stresses the influence of images and pictures both media show.
Similarly, in "Living-Room Wars," Perlmutter devotes part of his essay to explain the power of images. He provides three different powers of images of war or any other subject. The first is that images can have aesthetic power and the second is that pictures can serve as an icon. The third power of picture which is also described in the movie is their political power because images are the driving force of policy and publics.
The pictures of dead bodies shown on the news for either side evoke emotion, sometimes sadness, but more often than desired, anger and the need for revenge. One person says in the movie that "pictures are so desperate." The movie mentions that Al Jezeera shows more bloody images than the American news. Al Jezeera is even shown to use media and images to lie to the country. After the Americans bombed a certain place in Iraq, Al Jezeera instructed women and children to go to that area so that they could be filmed there in the ruins. Since so many people would be watching this particular news network, Bush labeled Al Jezeera the mouthpiece of Saddam Hussein. One good point the movie brings up about Al Jezeera is that they invite Americans to speak on their news show and voice their point of views. At least they are trying to get the other side, whether or not they believe it or not. The newscasters try to interview people who have both sides of the story. Even though, Al Jezeera still does not show everything to its public. The American soldiers stationed there can tell what they are showing and what they are excluding from the news. The exact same can go for the American news. One person during the movie mentions that what the Iraqi public do not know is what Al Jezeera is not reporting or showing.
Perlmutter brings up this point when he says that "what is not visualized is not news." The media is so influential that it can ignore an issue or an event and "thus withhold it from the collective consciousness and attention of the world" (Perlmutter 538). "Control Room" does a thorough job of discussing both the good and bad points of Al Jezeera as well as the American news. It films both sides and both point of views. It shows the substantial significance of television news in informing the public of what is happening to their country and others, even if the news will be biased. It brings up a question of whether or not there are any journalists who are objective to the war and telling news. It clearly proves that sadly, there are none.
It's predictable, but really baffling at the same time, to see
hate-filled commentary directed at this movie in particular.
This film can be summed up quite perfectly by a quote featured prominently in it, spoken by one of the al-Jazeera technicians interviewed: "this word, 'objectivity', is a mirage". Using this quote as a jumping off point to look at the film as whole, one immediately sees that it is a brilliant work, as "balanced" as a documentary can be on such a subject as the war against Iraq and the entire spectrum of media's coverage of same (not just al-Jazeera's). One of the strengths of this terrific film is that it its editing is, in large part, invisible. Which isn't to say that it isn't crafted, because it is, but it is not strict manipulation (a large part of FAHRENHEIT 911, as with much of Michael Moore's work).
It's a rare non-fiction film these days which goes to great lengths to allow the complexities of discussions to emerge, and CONTROL ROOM does. Sometimes it comes right out of the mouths of those you'd least expect to hear it from, such as (now-former) Captain Josh Rushing, Air Force spokesperson at CENTCOM, who presents a human, conflicted view of the war (a view which is reflective of a massive number of soldiers; so says Rushing in post-film interviews, but you are hardly likely to hear that outside of a film like CONTROL ROOM).
This is not a film of short answers to big questions. It's a nuanced, non-hysterical, non-judgmental work which deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as FAHRENHEIT 911 has had. It ranks up there with the finest verité documentaries of the past decades by the Maysles team, Leacock et al. And it is actually beautifully photographed and edited, even within its modest DV means.
I enjoyed watching this, and they make some valid points - they
broadcast to their people the way we broadcast to ours, they want to
show the damage of war, they're journalists first, etc. All quite
interesting. The one omission I found was that they didn't address why
they show terrorist broadcasts and play their messages. It was never
addressed. Also quickly glossed over was their showing dead and injured
American POWs, whereas we don't show images of that sort. But still,
I'd recommend it to hear from the other side.
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