Control Room (2004)

(In theaters, September 2004) This fascinating documentary takes us on the ground at the US Military media “control room” in Quatar throughout the American invasion of Iraq. While the focus is kept on the staff of the Al-Jazeera news network, this is really an examination of how war affects journalism, and how truth is carefully molded by forces escaping individual control. As a documentary, it’s low-touch: All is raw footage and beyond some text at the very beginning of the film, there is no feeling of a narration telling us what is happening. Don’t think that this makes for a loose film, though: Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Control Room is how it defines and watches its own characters coping with the ordeal. Samir Khader, a wizened news producer who tells the truth in-between cigarettes, including how he’d gladly trade the Arabic nightmare for the American dream. Hassan Ibrahim, a teddy bear philosopher whose quiet brainy rage is no match for the events he’s covering. Lt. Josh Rushing, a mouthpiece for the US Army who nevertheless shows, at times, a rough understanding of what is going on. Donald Rumsfeld, appearing only through television monitors, every single time uttering a statement that applies more to himself than to the enemies he thinks he’s damning. And the staff at Al-Jazeera, professionals and journalists just like others, until they themselves become targets. Throughout the film, one stark realization emerges for non-partisan viewers looking at it from a late-2004 perspective: In a match between American and Arab media, the Arab media seems to have a clearer picture of what truly happened. As American media breathlessly accuse Saddam of torturing prisoners and lying to the press, it’s hard not to feel the force of history selecting the ultimate truth-sayer.

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