Different channels. Different truths.
Running Time: 84 minutes
UK Certificate: 12a
Country: United States
Is it possible for televised news coverage to be completely objective? Probably not after all, pretty much everything has to be edited. Thats a given. But, as war broke out between the United States and Iraq in 2003, how did the major channels choose which images were newsworthy and which were not? How reliable were their sources of information? And what were the major differences if any between the big US networks like Fox, and the Arab worlds most popular news station, Al Jazeera?
These are the questions were led to think about in Control Room, Jehane Noujaims self-consciously no-frills documentary. Its low-key, largely free from graphics, and is presented without as much as a sentence of narration. And why? Well, it could be an effort to escape the inevitable comparisons with the likes of Michael Moores gimmicky and self-centred Fahrenheit 9/11. Then again, it could be because Noujaim knows theres a whopping great irony inherent in what shes trying to do. After all, you could ask exactly the same questions of her film as youre expected to of its subject. How did she choose what footage made the final cut? How much of the various interviews with US military types and Al Jazeera heads have been edited down? Does the film have an agenda and, if so, what is it?
Its an irony (Id stop well short of calling it a hypocrisy) thats effectively impossible to escape, and the result is a documentary that feels claustrophobic and incomplete. Whether its an accurate assumption or not, I couldnt help but feel that the film itself, just like the TV channels it places its focus on, wasnt quite delivering the full picture.
Theres little doubt, though, that theres some interesting stuff here. Sure, the basic premise that TV news can never be simply a window on the world isnt exactly a big shock to anyone who knows even the first thing about the media. We already know the media mediate things the clues in the name! But many of the interviews and contributions, particularly those of top Al Jazeera producer Samir Khader and US Lieutenant Josh Rushing, are salient, informative, and extremely well articulated.
Control Room will hold your attention, but it doesnt offer much more than that. The chosen subject matter puts it in a bit of a no-win situation, and Noujaims tactic of trying to hide its flaws isnt enough to overcome them. She might not like me saying this, but perhaps she should have gone in the other direction the Moore direction and simply embraced the fact that this is a film about the media, by the media.
It's Got: Donald Rumsfeld blasting Al Jazeera as anti-American propaganda. So its probably safe to assume hes not a subscriber.
It Needs: Some man on the street viewpoints. How does the average Iraqi feel about the medias coverage of the war. Or the average American for that matter?
DVD Extras A trailer reel featuring some other documentary films of note, including Super Size Me and Capturing the Friedmans. What about Weekend at Bernies? Isnt that a documentary too? DVD Extras Rating: 2/10
Alternatives:Fahrenheit 9/11, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception
How can you make a carefully-edited documentary about carefully-edited news? With great difficulty, if this attempt is anything to go by.