Director: Jehane Noujaim
Writer: Julia Bacha & Jehane Noujam
Cinematography: Jehane Noujaim
by Jon Cvack
The Iraq war has become a far more interesting subject as the heated politics have begun to fade and the era settles into history. I was fifteen years old when it all began and wasn’t all too politically-engaged at the time. Gradually that changed as I entered college, as the vitriol snowballed on both sides. The Left completely disagreed and thought the Bush Administration lied to everyone, and the Right were near fully supportive of every single decision, no matter the lethal consequences of civilians or soldiers. Given it’s parallel to the digital revolution there was a barrage of low budget anti-war documentaries to absorb, all demonstrating how poorly executed and rushed the endeavor was, examining all of the colorful Bush administration personalities. Eventually the rhetoric got old and boring - Bush was an idiot; Cheney was the devil; there should be accountability for war crimes; and so and so forth. It’s not that the anger wasn’t justified, it was just hammered in day after day and I think by the end of Bush’s term everyone was desperate for change.
Six years later, it’s easier to take a more objective look at the war. I’m interested in reading the literature and watching the documentaries as though listening to a past favorite song that was played on repeat and grew stale. We’re now witnessing the effects of a toppled government within a precarious region with no post-Saddam plan in place. The region is now experiencing a terrifying expansion of religious extremism as the people fight for land and stability.
Control Room is a fascinating look at the early days of the Al Jazeera News Network. It reminds me of my early days at a small digital start up, Maker Studios, as we were attempting to mimic traditional production with limited tools with no office space. Al Jazeera is operating out of a small studio with an even smaller office, but they were determined to offer an alternative to the American News Media which professed unwavering support for the war. Once again, at the time, I never noticed how one sided the stories were in the early days. You somewhat believe what you’re told because the government wouldn’t launch a war without proper planning or cause. Al Jazeera shows the other side of the story, about the horrors that we brought to the nation, and the ways in which we were manipulated and how the government responded.
Al Jazeera definitely has a slant, though it’s more of a reaction against what the international media was reporting. They are determined to keep things balanced and in a great scene, one of the lead editors chastises one of the staff for bringing in a person that was heavily partisan without an alternative view to challenge his ideas. We see how the American military used a group of soldiers as PR vehicles, using talking points and diverting challenging questions over and over again. One of the PR recruits evolves from a simple talking head to an individual who begins to understand that there are multiple perspective that might not always agree with what he’s being told to say. Control Room shows the passion and growth of a nascent news network that would eventually go on to be one of the most reputable sources of journalism. It’s a fascinating film.
NOTE: I was disheartened to discover that Al Jazeera America was going dark last, as they offered some incredible reporting, and made the finest use of Facebook video with their 3-5 minute stories. I think too many people retained Donald Rumsfeld's propaganda about it being some pro-Al-Queda network (discussed in Control Room), instead of seeing it as offering balanced coverage against the endless onslaught of noise from other Cable News Networks. To think such a great news program couldn't last, joining the ranks of dozens of others of excellent networks who tried and failed makes me feel kind of hopeless. Will there ever be a fair and insightful mainstream network? Here's looking at you Netflix...
BELOW: Watch the documentary, keeping in mind what it would become
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