Control Room (2004) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but I'd rate it PG-13 for some graphic scenes of war injuries
Running Time: 84 min.
Director: Jehane Noujaim
Screenplay: Julia Bacha, Jehane Noujaim
Review published December 16, 2004
Control Room is a "food for thought" documentary that presents a series of scenes, interviews and news reports, all centering around the coverage of the war in Iraq from the perspective of the leading independent news source for Arabs, al-Jazeera. While many will be looking for a point of view regarding the Iraq War's legitimacy as a liberation movement, or merely an invasion designed to promote United States' interests in the region, there really isn't an overt message in this regard, although many viewers perceptions will still probably be affected. What messages there are pertain mostly to the nature of news coverage, contrasting the way Western countries cover the events of the war to that most Arabs see on their own network of choice. What people see on television -- the images, thoughts, ideas, and emotion -- is a very powerful tool, and is the main reason why governments seek to do whatever they can to control what gets shown and manipulate their own versions of events to their favor.
Many have criticized al-Jazeera for its anti-American stance toward the war in Iraq, an accusation of which the network doesn't bother trying to deny, except to put the mirror back on our own news coverage and ask if we can really, honestly say the same. Control Room shows how difficult it is to be truly unbiased in journalism, because everyone has an opinion, and are deeply affected one way or another at seeing their nations, and their nation's values, win or lose. In the end, the viewers decide to see what they want to see, and that usually means news that doesn't always contradict them, which results in the reason why Fox News rules the American cable news coverage, and al-Jazeera is tops in the Arab world. These networks merely show what their audience will want to hear in the end.
Control Room, as a documentary, isn't blessed by the tightest or most profound presentation, but it is always interesting, and also informative in that it gives us an eye to things which we would never be privy through regular news channels. The slackness in some of the editing indirectly makes this a more profound experience, as we have time to contemplate and digest some of the film's most striking points.
The points are this: war is hell, the media is one of the main weapons in the success in that war, and since those who engage in war also know this, we cannot trust that what we see in the media is 100% true. Even while the American military overpowered the forces of Iraq decisively, Arabs chose to get their news from al-Jazeera, mostly because they didn't get a real sense they were losing, and those viewers could maintain a sense of hope. The same could be said on the other side, where the American news organizations and the BBC showed the war as going without a hitch, and completely omitting the casualties and deaths of soldiers and civilians that would cause their viewers to be upset.
There's an old adage that people will believe what they want to believe, and that's certainly true in the world of journalism. The reporters want to believe their respective nations are doing well, and will constantly look to showcase events in the light of their choosing, and likeminded viewers will tune in, not because they want the whole truth and nothing but, but because they want to believe that what they would like to be true really is. Control Room, if nothing else, is a reminder that there are two sides to every story, and that neither side has a monopoly on truth. We see what they want us to see, and perhaps even further, we choose to see that which we want to see as well. They say you can lie to others, but you can't lie to yourself. Control Room shows us how false that statement really is.
©2004 Vince Leo