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
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.
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
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
In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
© 2004 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 10/25/04
USA - 2004