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<nettime> Review of Documentary Film "Control Room"
Ronda Hauben on Mon, 31 May 2004 09:24:19 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Review of Documentary Film "Control Room"

Following is a review of the new documentary film "Control Room"
which has just premiered in NYC last weekend.

The film not only reviews the early days of the US invasion of
Iraq, but it does so from the perspective of three people, two
of whom have opposing viewpoints of the invasion.

I thought those on nettime would find the film something fruitful
to discuss in respect to what it demonstrates about the power of
an art form to foster communication.


   Control Room Demonstrates the Power of Film
The gap between those with different cultural perspectives

			Ronda Hauben

The documentary  Control Room [1] opened in NYC on Friday night May
21, 2004. The opening weekend shows were sold out, and the reviews in
the NY press encouraged people to see the film and to take it
seriously. On the surface, "Control Room" appears to be a film about
the Arab language media organization Al Jazeera and their coverage of
the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The actual focus of the film
is, however, considerably more profound.

Jehane Noujaim, who directed the film, has her roots in both the
Egyptian and the American cultural environments. She became interested
in how the news contributes to different cultural perspectives of the
world. In her film, not only does the film maker focus on the gap
between those with different cultural perspectives, but she also
explores the power of the the news and of film to foster communication
which can overcome these cultural barriers.

In an interview, Noujaim describes her personal experience which led
her to the idea for her film. She explains:


 The idea for the film came from a few different sources. Growing up
and going back and forth between Egypt and the United States provided
the initial entry point. Seeing the complete difference in
perspectives on the same world events between the two cultures made me
start thinking about news, the creation of the news, who's
responsible, and then on to questions of how these two peoples are
supposed to communicate if the world as provided by their news are

After writing letters to Al Jazeera to try to get access to film them
didn't succeed, she headed to Qatar to Al Jazeera's headquarters. Her
executive producer Abdallah Schleifer, formerly a journalist who was
an NBC bureau chief for 10 years, was able to set up an initial
meeting with Al Jazeera. That, however, was not sufficient to gain the
access needed to do the film she had in mind. Sitting in the cafeteria
at Al Jazerra's headquarters with the film's producer, Hani Salama,
Noujaim took a week drinking lots of coffee and talking with people
who would later be featured in the film.

Among the Al Jazeera staff she met were Samir Khader, a senior
producer at Al Jazeera and Hassan Ibrahim, a reporter, who formerly
worked for the BBC. They came to understand what she wanted to do.
Hassan then spoke with Al Jazeera's management and was able to get
their agreement to give Noujaim the access she needed for the film.
"You have to have the trust of someone inside, she explains, "to be
able to make a film like the one we wanted to make."

Abdallah Schleifer also brought her to meet Lt. Josh Rushing, the
press officer at Centcom, the Media Center of the United States
Central Command in Qatar. Lt. Rushing was responsible for explaining
the rationale and progress of the US invasion of Iraq to the Arab
press. Rushing said that he would get the film crew into Centcom every
day when their application through normal channels failed.

Among the memorable moments in the film, is the recognition by Hassam
that George Bush "has managed to galvanize people for Saddam in a way
that is amazing." Despite Hassam's condemnation of the US invasion of
Iraq, he maintains a conviction the US Constitution will make it
possible to restore democracy in the US. Similarly, Samir expresses
his belief in democratic processes and values. His goal is to create a
news media which will encourage people in the Arab countries to
discuss and debate the news. The goal of Al Jazeera, he explains is to
"educate the Arab masses in something called democracy....to shake up
their rigid societies, to awaken them, to tell them: Wake up, wake up,
there is a world around you, something is happening in the world, you
are still sleeping, wake up."

Recent revelations of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by the American
occupation forces, make especially ironic the footage from 2003 of
George Bush explaining to the world that he expects American P.O.W's
to be "treated humanely, just like we're treating the prisoners that
we have captured humanely."

Similarly, when Rumsfeld lambasts Al Jazeera for presenting images of
Iraqi injuries and deaths on tv, or for showing Iraqi women and
children speaking out against the American invasion of their country,
one can only wonder about what he had in mind when he promises that,
"Truth ultimately finds its way to people's eyes and ears and hearts."

In contrast to the hostility of American government officials like
Rumsfeld toward hearing any other perspective of the situation in
Iraq, is the continuing conversation between Hassan of Al Jazeera, and
Lt. Rushing of Centcom, about the difference in understanding of the
American and the Arab worlds about the struggle in Palestine.
Lieutenant Rushing believes that "no American connects the Palestinian
issue" with the war in Iraq, while Hassan stresses the widespread
rercognition of this connection in the Arab world.

Hassan patiently explain to Rushing why this is a signficant
difference between the two cultures, a difference that Rushing
acknowledges he can't comprehend. At the end of the film, Hassan
invites Rushing to dinner to explore this difference, and Rushing
accepts. At least in this instance, with the focus of the film maker
on these two individuals from two different worlds, the US press
officer acknowledges the difference and agrees to try to broaden his

The film demonstrates that there is a power in journalism and in film.
It provides the challenge to continue to explore how this power can be
put in the service of communication across cultural barriers, as
Noujaim has done in her powerful and relevant documentary.


[1] http://www.controlroommovie.com

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