This has been an unprecedented year for documentary film in the United States. We've seen the first "doc-buster" in Michael Moore's $100-million grossing polemic, Farenheit 9/11 and an equally impressive performance in Morgan Sperlock's feature debut, Supersize Me. And this being an election year, there's a new crop of poliitcal docs rolling out every week - Outfoxed, a look into the Fox News Channel's right-wing agenda, Bush's Brain about how Karl Rove shaped Bush's presidency, and Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry which explores the Democratic presidential candidate's Navy tour of duty in Vietnam.
Earlier this year, without much fanfare a prophetic documentary unspooled at the Sundance Film Festival. Jehane Noujaim's Control Room is a remarkable exploration of the complexities of war reporting in this age of 24-hour TV news. Set in the US Military's Central Command (CentCom) - the media base in Qatar during the second Iraq war - the film sets out to depict Al Jazeera's coverage of the US attack on Iraq. Al Jazeera is the official broadcaster of the Arab world. It first went on-air in 1996 and currently reaches an estimated 40 million viewers. The network is often criticized for its anti-American bias, but to truly understand its perspective you need to see it from Noujaim's neutral lens. The filmmaker (who's previous work includes the award-winning startup.com) was born in Cairo, Egypt, and educated at Harvard. I think this goes a long way to explain her perspective. Whereas Moore sets out on a left-wing agenda in Farenheit, Noujaim strains to to give us an unbiased look at the complexities of reporting the news during wartime. It's not black and white as the US government and military would like us to believe.
The film is aptly titled. It, ultimately, refers more to CentCom itself than the Al Jazeera control room. It is a stark, often frightening portrayal of how war is not only won on the battlefield, but in the media as well.
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, as Americans working in entertainment and media, this film is required viewing.
To learn more about the film and to find out about screenings near you, visit http://controlroommovie.com.