Movie Review: Control Room

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
The Greek dramatist Aeschylus said: In war, truth is the first casualty. Jehane Noujaim's fascinating documentary "Control Room" explores the issues of truth in media with a focus on Al Jazeera, the largest Arab news network with 55 million viewers, based in Qatar. Al Jazeera is the first independent network in the Arab world. It was founded in 1996 to give the Arabs something new, so they wouldn't have to go to outside sources, such as the BBC, to find out what is really happening in the Arab world.

The director formerly worked with legendary documentarians D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. She is also the cinematographer of the exceptional documentary "Down from the Mountain", the homage to bluegrass legends, where she demonstrated her style and talent for visual composition.

Coincidentally, Noujaim began filming at Al Jazeera just two weeks before the Iraq-American War started. She followed the people she liked for six weeks, shot over 200 hours of footage and edited it down to 2. Noujaimís artistic sensibilities are revealed by the mood she sets, by what she is able to elicit from her subjects and by her treatment of the incongruity of contrasting views of the same war.

Donald Rumsfeld has called the network "Osama bin Laden's mouthpiece" for "being subjective". When confronted by an American reporter about their bias, Al Jazeera producer Deema Khatib defends their coverage saying that if there were no agenda wouldnít we welcome all images and information? Isnít the refusal to report dead civilians or show American coffins as much a distortion of the truth? Can real images be propaganda?

In a recent interview with documentarian Peter Davis, who directed "Hearts & Minds", he said that "Control Room" is the only documentary that shows what is really happening in the Iraq War, adding that the American media show us bombs from afar or shots from behind the guns, but not the consequences of the bombing or shooting. Through "Control Room" we see that Al Jazeera shows footage of wounded, mutilated and dead soldiers and Iraqi civilians. It is devastating to watch.

Two stars emerge in "Control Room". One is senior producer Samir Khader, and the other is reporter Hassan Ibrahim. Samir Khader is a seasoned, brilliant and cynical chain-smoking news man with a dry sense of humor. He speaks about his commitment to democracy, openness, and free speech. Reporter Hassan Ibrahim has covered ten wars, and attended the University of Arizona. He grew up in Saudi Arabia and attended grade-school with Osama bin Laden. He is a charming character who asserts he has unfaltering faith in the American Constitution. "Eventually you will have to find a solution that doesn't involve bombing people into submission democratize or I will shoot you" says Ibrahim, who has faith in our system and believes that when the American public sees the damage being done, "the United States is going to stop the United States."

Jehane Noujaim's "Control Room" is a tour de force. It is a revealing and important work that will advance our understanding of the Arab point of view and will help bridge the yawning gap between our cultures. "Control Room" was released on DVD yesterday and is available for rent or purchase.

In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
More Information:
Control Room
USA - 2004