March 22, 2005

Control Room

As with many movies that somehow managed to skirt a run in lovely small town USA, Control Room is one that Bloodless Coup just got around to watching. By some miracle of scheduling - or perhaps because yesterday was the first day back from Spring Break and none of us could really face it without some diversion- all three of us sat down to watch the movie together. Like many, I had heard very good things about this movie, most of it from Leftish sources, and most of it was positive though vague e.g. "Have you seen Control Room? It's great!" I had few expectations about the film, but had watched some great documentaries (Dog Town and Z-Boys, Okie Noodling) in the last few months and was curious about this film about Al Jazeera.

What surprised me about the film was that I ended up being less focused on the Al Jazeera part, and more captivated by the film's portrayal of the journalists, and the dualities they face as professionals and as people. Through its coverage of the people working for the news channel the film captures the desire of these people to be journalists just like everyone else. While I suspect Baltar has a somewhat different opinion, I think it was clear that the objectivity of the Al Jazeera news reports is much like that of its peers in other countries: compromised by feelings, by access to information, and by the need to give the target audience what they want. Most of them also freely admit their biases and opinion, particularly Hassan Ibrahim, a veteran former BBC reporter. Even though in some ways their status was special and different (and it's clear that different isn't always good, as Al Jazeera was banned in some countries for criticizing the rulers) and generally positive, they also drew a great deal of negative attention, not least from the US, in the film in the person of Secretary Rumsfeld. But behind the politics of the context, at times you could almost forget which network the story was about, as you watched editors, producers, and interviewers cope with the hassles of reporting on a war.

What I thought was even better about the film was its insight it offered into the complicated position of professionals working in a non-democratic, non-developed country. As someone who has spent time in authoritarian, democratizing and democratic countries in the Americas, I was struck by the similarities to professionals I have met who lived with the complications and compromises of their countries, yet somehow managed to carry on in an insulated bubble of professionalism. The person in Control Room who most exemplified this was Samir Khader, a senior producer, but could also be seen in Deema Khatib, a younger producer. It struck me as being right on target in showing the way that educated professionals are both part of, and removed from, their countries in these sorts of complicated political situations. They are very pro-West in some ways (Khader's daughter goes to the American school, Khatib is by appearance a Westernized female professional) but Khatib expresses dismay when no one resists the US troops entering Baghdad, a blow to pride in the form of perceived cowardice on the part of the Iraqis. It's a difficult position to be in... to love your country (or in this case, region) but hate your government(s) and not really to be able to say so. To appreciate the United States, its freedoms and opportunities, and to desire your children the freedom of living there, but to be angry with the foreign policy of a US administration that results in the death of a friend and colleague. To be ashamed at the conduct of your government and neighbors, but defensive when outsiders criticize your "family." Even to be fearful that your own fellow citizens (subjects?) above and below will see your actions as a betrayal of national (regional) identity if you are perceived as too moderate or balanced in the coverage of the war. These existential conflicts could be of a journalist in authoritarian Brazil, an economist in Cuba, or a doctor in Chile. It was this universal quality that transcended the borders of geography and politics, and that I very much enjoyed as I watched the film.

Posted by binky at March 22, 2005 04:15 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Movies

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