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An inside look at the media coverage of the conflict in Iraq, primarily through the newsroom of Al Jazeera, the Arab world's equivalent of CNN.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you're looking for a simplistic affirmation of anti-US and/or anti-Iraq war sentiments, Control Room will leave you a little disappointed. The film tries to be as balanced as the coverage of the war was not; Jahene Noujaim makes every effort to be pluralist in telling a story that is a minefield of political explosives. The result is a fascinating insight not only into the media and how it was manipulated, infuriated and even killed in the conflict: it is above all a genuine document of the complexities of our world.

The film is full of things and people that are contradictory: Hassan Ibrahim, an Al-Jazeera journalist who gets quite a lot of screen time, states early on that the message of Al-Jazeera is to "wake up" the Arab world, "to shake them and say there's a world around you, wake up to democracy and to other points of view." Imagine what an outcry this exhortation would have had, had it been made by Josh Rushing, Central Command Press Officer, who also gets a lot of screen time.

Like many of the Americans, Rushing comes off as nave. But that's a by-product, not the film's main aim. This very hand-made doco turns on the fact that it gets some completely honest asides from the most unlikely subjects. Like Hassan Ibrahim, who manages to condemn the US while setting his sights on a US education for his kids - and even jostles for a possible job at Fox News. As we all know, Fox News is perhaps the perfect antithesis of Al-Jezeera in that it broadcast the most pro-American spun coverage. And this subject gets a nice airing: war is as much about propaganda as about military victory. Why are we surprised that the powers on both sides of the conflict tried to use propaganda? Perception is the real currency, not truth - even if truth were as easy to find as a pebble on Brighton beach.

The film touches on a billion aspects of the media's role, and shows brutally how hard it is to provide neutral or objective coverage of a conflict so divisive - even within each camp. (There is no mention of the hefty anti-war writings of the American or other Western media, but then the film doesn't pretend to be a media analyst.)

Control Room (note the absence of 'The') is a gripping and important work that adds to our knowledge and understanding of the processes that go into the dissemination of information in a world that tunes in to war as it happens, on a daily basis.

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(US/Egypt, 2004)

CAST: Documentary featuring Hassan Ibrahim, Deema Khatib, Tom Mintier, David Shuster, Samir Khader, Lt Josh Rushing and many others

PRODUCER: Rosadel Varela, Hani Salama

DIRECTOR: Jahene Noujaim


CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jehane Noujaim, Hani Salama

EDITOR: Alan Oxman (sprvsng), Julia Bacha, Lilah Bankier, Charlie Marquardt

MUSIC: Kinan Azmeh, Hamsy El Din, Thomas DeRenzo, Karsh kale, Hani Salama, Nassier Shamma, John Smarmy, David Stone, Dinuk Wijerante


RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: June 24, 2004; Melbourne: September 2, 2004


VIDEO RELEASE: March 16, 2005

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