Control Room Jehane Noujaim

Control Room Jehane Noujaim
Great documentary is in part the luck of being in the right place at the right time, but the root of that is putting a camera in a place where telling things are likely to happen; Control Room, which explores the Arab news network Al Jazeera, is that fortunate combination of both. Al Jazeera, which began less than a decade ago with a mandate to "open up" the communications within the Arab world, has been vilified by the West since the beginning of the Iraq war as a mouthpiece for Arab propaganda. But within just a few minutes of this documentary, which gets inside the news gathering organisation, it becomes very clear that Al Jazeera is fighting an uphill battle within the Arab world itself. As the American "liberation" of Iraq grows in scale, the film explores the relationship between the investigative instincts of Al Jazeera's journalists and the spin control of the U.S. military's Central Command Press Officer, a well-intentioned but naïve Captain Josh Rushing. Rushing's an excellent symbol of America's good intentions in the region, and of the sense that they're in over their heads in a country and a culture of which they have little understanding. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera fights a "war" on two fronts — battling for access with the U.S. military and fighting for openness and access within the Arab world, which sees it as a mouthpiece of the West. This mostly ideological conflict becomes a very real one when American missiles "accidentally" hit Al Jazeera's headquarters in Baghdad, disrupting its coverage. And there are layers upon layers of political intrigue buried in this fascinating documentary — director Noujaim (Startup.com) portrays Captain Rushing as a sympathetic and engaged person in a tough situation, while Al Jazeera producer Samir Khader reveals that while he recognises American media as biased, he'd gladly trade his job for one at the right-leaning Fox News network. In the end, the point of Control Room is not to demonstrate that "they" are right or wrong, or that the West is an evil empire, but simply how information is conveyed in ways that remain complex and tainted by one's own perspective. That's highlighted further by several different commentary tracks: by Captain Rushing, by Al Jazeera producers Khader and Hassan Ibrahim, and by director Noujaim and producer/cinematographer Hani Salama. Add to that a raft of deleted scenes, and Control Room becomes a wealth of information and the source of many questions, but not so many answers. Perhaps that's what good news provides in this day and age. (Alliance Atlantis)