Control Room (USA; 84 min.)

directed by: Jehane Noujaim
Control Room

Bruce says: "American media often mentions that Al Jazeera is influencing the entire Arab world, creating anti-American propaganda. The Western world identifies Al Jazeera primarily as the outlet for all the Bin Laden tapes. It is not far-fetched to assume the average Westerner has little, if any, knowledge about Al Jazeera aside from this negative image.

"The satellite news organization Al Jazeera was founded in 1996 and now broadcasts to 40 million Arabs. At last count there were slightly over 300 million Arabs, judging by the population of countries in the Arab League alone not to mention millions of Arabs scattered in other countries. The American media rarely mentions that Al Jazeera has been banned in some Arab states for being too objective. Would that happen if those Arab states were democracies? Does that account for the 265 million Arabs who are not getting biased news? Or are many Arab families just too poor to get Al Jazeera's broadcasts?

"By coincidence I happened to see CONTROL ROOM during the American Idol finale where a record 65 million votes were cast. The United States has a population slightly under 300 million. It is suspected that many people voted more than once. Is this the type of democracy that America is exporting?

"The point is that all sorts of numbers, facts and concepts are thrown at us today; some are real but much of what we read, see and hear has a spin. Many of us grew up in an era when journalists were perceived as honest and thorough. They checked their facts and published only facts that meant something. Journalists were trusted. Today it is difficult to know who to trust and what to believe.

"Whatever one thinks of Al Jazeera going into CONTROL ROOM, one cannot help but be stunned by how open, engaging, humorous and fair the journalists and production staff present themselves. These men and women are a well traveled, well educated, sophisticated group. They laugh with one another and engage their interviewees in humorous exchanges. Most American will be shocked to see they are very similar to us. They are very serious about what they do.

"CONTROL ROOM examines how the 2003 war in Iraq was covered by Al Jazeera and how information about the war was controlled by the American Military at Command Central, the communications arm playfully dubbed CentCom. Communications officer Lt. Josh Rushing and journalist Hassan Ibrahim exchange views frequently throughout the film. Each accuses the other of partisan thinking. Lieutenant Rushing has a boy-next-door demeanor and an initially naïve view of most aspects of war; he is upset with Al Jazeera’s publishing photos of dead and wounded Iraqi citizens. Ibrahim is upset the way Americans are so willing to suppress the ravages of war. Later in the film Lt. Rushing begins to empathize after he sees American troops dead, captured and wounded. In FOG OF WAR, McNamara’s first lesson was 'Empathize with your enemy.' Does this lesson have to be learned first hand again and again?

"While the Al Jazeera headquarters are in Doha Qatar, they have many smaller offices in other countries. Before the war began Al Jazeera furnished the Pentagon with the map coordinates of all the Al Jazeera offices in Iraq so that they would be protected from fire. During the siege of Baghdad, American military bombed the Al Jazeera office, Abu Dhabi TV and the Palestine Hotel, a haven for journalists. One Al Jazeera journalist named Tarek was killed and other journalists were killed by the other two bombings. Tarek’s fellow journalists grieve openly. They also challenge military claims that the bombings were accidental. Precision bombs, the type that were used, are 100 times more expensive than the generic variety; they are not deployed frivolously.

"Considering what we now know of American abuses at Abu Ghraib, many prior newsclips make the United States look dishonest and mean-spirited. At a press conference show Bush tells fellow Americans that we 'expect our POWS to be treated humanely just like we are treating our prisoners' and states that 'the American people are more secure, the Iraqi people are now free.' Rumsfeld is outraged by Iraqis. He claims 'parading captives is in violation of the Geneva convention.' An American Army officer complains that 'It is the responsibility of the Iraqi people to stop the looting' which occurred after the bombings.

"Many Western journalists covering the war expressed opinions more in line with Al Jazeera than with their own governments. For example, Tom Mintier of CNN complained bitterly about the excessive amount of news coverage given to Jessica Lynch while Baghdad was burning. When the infamous deck of cards of the fifty most wanted Iraqis was flashed to the audience by press officer Brooks at a press conference, no journalists were actually allowed to see them. Many journalists were shocked at the staged toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue. The participants were identified by one journalist as not having Iraqi accents; one young jubilant demonstrator just happened to have a 1991 Desert Storm flag in his pocket.

"CONTROL ROOM is fair in stating that both Arab and American press are often biased, reporting what each feels is important and focusing on what their audience wants to hear. The extent to which the United States government and military go to hide information and suppress facts, however, is a matter of integrity not bias. As a good friend of mine pointed out, Al Jazeera is presenting a new voice to the world such as MoveOn is doing in this country. We should rejoice – when the truth is disseminated, democracy is served. 4.5 cats"

Diane says, "Unlike the majority of political docus out now, CONTROL ROOM allows a
story to unfold (over five weeks at the start of the Iraq War), and the original footage tells its own story: no voiceovers or background or charts. It's sober, not cutesy. Valuable for its political perspective and the light it sheds on international journalism, Control Room gets 4 cats."
Janet says: "I saw this and FAHRENHEIT 9/11 within days of each other, and some of the subject matter overlaps. Both films address, for instance, the unbalanced coverage of the war on Iraq by American news outlets. From what I understand, the filmmaker of CONTROL ROOM, which focuses mainly on the Arab news station Al-Jazeera, wanted to interview many more representatives of the international news media gathered in Baghdad when the city fell, but most of the American media people refused to appear on film because they were under too much pressure to be patriotic.

"In terms of balance and careful reportage, CONTROL ROOM is the superior documentary. One memorable sequence gives a different perspective on the iconic scene of several Iraqis toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein. Viewing from a distance, you can see that the event was staged, with only fifteen or so half-hearted men participating, while the onlooking crowd is completely impassive---no cheering or shouting, no disagreeing, and no movement or arm waving of any type, which you would expect to see when people get excited. You see a lot more animation when they tell us to go home!

"The film also provides a view into the surprising solidarity among journalists of all nationalities. Their professionalism, tenacity, and camaraderie make them a kind of nation unto themselves."

Michael says: "A timely documentary, to be sure, Noujaim's THE CONTROL ROOM tells the story of Al Jazeera, the controversial and powerful news outlet based in the Arab world. Thoughtfully and carefully juxtaposing her coverage of Al Jazeera with media outlets of the Western World (such as FoxNews) during their coverage of the war in Iraq, Noujaim explores objectivity and bias with interviews, news footage, and stock footage. While undeniably powerful, watching a film such as this that questions objectivity, causes me to step away and focus on the objectivity of the film itself. A particularly powerful sequence involves the U.S. soldier in charge of media for the U.S. military who is disturbed by Al Jazeera's methods, while acknowledging that the western media outlets use those same methods, and the fact that it disturbs him more when Al Jazeera does it forces him to reexamine his own methods. Still, THE CONTROL ROOM is a timely and important documentary that will interest a lot of people. 4 cats"
Chris says: "Engrossing documentary about Al-Jazeera, the Arabian world's equivalent to Fox News. Filmed during the first few weeks of the current Iraqi war, it doesn't entirely celebrate (or condemn) the network, but it probes into the causes and casualities of war and the media's role in reporting it with real insight. If you haven't seen FAHRENHEIT 9/11, don't bother and rent this instead. 4 cats"