Autumn 2004 Edge series
Sunday, December 12, 2004 at 4:00pm
Sunday, December 12, 2004 at 7:00pm
Rated NR ·
France / Canada
Arabic and English
Control Room, which screened to acclaim at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, is a captivating and timely documentary from filmmaker Jehane Noujaim (Startup.com). For her third film, Noujaim gained unprecedented access to Al-Jazeera, launched in 1996 and one of the most controversial and popular free network news sources in the Arab world. From this vantage point, her camera witnesses the unfolding of the current Iraqi war.
On March 19, 2003, the United States Government declared war on Iraq, and the international media began flocking to a location just outside Baghdad where the government set up “CentCom” – short form for Central Communications. From here, the United States military conducted press conferences, controlled international media access to battle areas, and were highly sensitive about what information was to be disseminated to the public – more than a few media outlets, as shown in the documentary, were upset about the censorship preventing them from covering the reality to which they were witness. As part of their mandate, government officials keep close watch on Al-Jazeera, which for obvious reasons has an entirely different perspective on the unfolding events.
Jehane Noujaim travels to Iraq to investigate exactly this: the day-to-day operations of Al-Jazeera as counterpoint to CentCom and such news outlets as Fox News. How do the media from different countries package the “truth” to deliver to their respective audiences? Noujaim introduces the dedicated and sometimes jaded journalists at Al-Jazeera, as well as the press officer for CentCom, who is revealed through the course of the documentary to have a much more layered approach to what he does than appears at first.
Al-Jazeera, which is roundly criticized by Pentagon officials for its pro-Iraqi bias, is condemned for airing civilian casualties, but Control Room affords audiences a very important glimpse into the rationale behind the network’s choices. The most striking aspect of Control Room, along with the diverse and engaging personalities working at Al-Jazeera, is the access Noujaim was granted to follow journalists during this critical juncture of an international crisis. Just as news agencies began with full force to spin their propaganda machine, this documentary comes along as a refreshing and eye-opening reminder that truth is relative, and that no opinion should be reached without an examination of multiple points of view.