Control Room is a documentary that looks at the way al Jazeera, the Arab news station, has covered the Iraq war. It opened my eyes to another perspective in a way that no other movie before it has. I now realize that I had many preconceived notions about what I thought the evil al Jazeera was all about.
The movie starts shortly before the war on Iraq begins. It features a number of the staff of al Jazeera but the two most compelling (and they are very compelling) are Samir Khader, the general manager running al Jazeera, and Hassan Ibrahim, a reporter for al Jazeera. When the war finally does begin, most of the film takes place in the confines of a press complex where all of the major news sources hang out (including Fox, CNN, NBC, etc.).
There were a few things that absolutely stood out as more than beautiful in the movie:
- Lt. Josh Rushing, an American serviceman who is tasked with PR of sorts for the war, is vulnerably honest. In one scene he describes how awkward it feels that one night he sees a bunch of dead Arab civilians and military personnel and goes on about his business. The very next night he saw the pictures of the dead American military personnel and he was enraged and passionate.
What troubled him is he didn't react the same way to both scenes.
- At one point in the movie, an American military spokesperson whose last name was Brooks, came out and showed a deck of cards with the 55 (I don't know why it's not 52) most wanted enemy military personnel that they were giving out to as many U.S. personnel as possible. A media rep asked for a sample deck. Mr. Brooks said he would make them available but couldn't give them a deck.
A few minutes later you see a group of media folks asking for the deck and being told repeatedly that they can't see them. It is downright humorous.
- Understandably al Jazeera has their own slant on the war to cater to their own demographic. At one point, however, Mr. Khader does an interview with someone from the US who speaks about how the US is clearly in the war for the oil. After the interview, Mr. Khader takes his producer to task because he didn't find an interviewee with a balanced point of view.
- Finally, there are several scenes where they show the day that the statue of Saddam Hussein came down in a major square in Baghdad. Several of the al Jazeera personnel watch the footage and comment that the townspeople in the video are likely not Iraqis. And, they are struck that no one else joins in the celebration other than those who are escorted in by the Americans. It's gripping stuff.
I know that much of what I saw was a "produced" documentary that can slant the story however they want. But there was one scene that just can't be produced. Mr. Khader is struggling with the war, Arab folks' reaction to it, and the despondency of it all. He looks straight into the camera and admits that when they are old enough he's going to send his children to America to learn and live.
I don't look at that as a "victory" for the American way. Rather, I celebrate that as a landslide victory for terrific filmmaking. It's one of the many reasons I think Control Room is an absolute must-see. It's a life-changer.