The closing night film at the Isabel Bader theatre was Control Room (hot docs | official site), Jehane Noujaim’s latest documentary. The premise of the doc — a look inside Al Jazeera during the Iraq invasion, and at how the US military controlled and spoonfed the western media — intrigued me enough, but I was completely sold after I learned that Noujaim had also directed and produced Startup.com (imdb | official site…in spanish?). Startup was a brilliant film, especially for someone who lived through the tech ex/implosion, so I expected a lot from this as well.
It hardly disappointed. While nothing could really match the previous night’s emotional kick of Death In Gaza, it afforded a good look at a side of the conflict we rarely, if ever, saw. It also reminded me of just how hypocritical Rumsfeld and Bush were in criticizing Jazeera. It did nothing the American networks didn’t do; it just did them for the wrong side.
There were even moments of unintentional hilarity…again, usually from the nattering gob of Rumsfeld, or sometimes a press flack. The two most interesting characters were an Al Jazeera reporter named (I think) Hassan, and a marine press officer named Rushing. Hassan was concise, intelligent and sarcastic, even in English. Rushing, while trained/ordered/expected to spout the party line, was obviously embarassed by having to treat so many intelligent reporters like addle-minded children. I mean, how do you convince reasonable journalists that American warplanes bombing Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi TV and the Palestine Hotel (home to many foreign journalists) all in the same day was an accident? Especially after bragging about the accuracy of the bombs? But he tried. He was an interesting character, and he at least seemed to be honest with the camera. I’m not sure you could even say the same about Hassan, or the head of Jazeera.
Did the film have a position to begin with? Of course. All documentaries do. But Noujaim saw a hole, a gap between what we were being told and what was actually happening. And she stood in that gap with her camera running. Lucky for us.