Despised by the Bush administration almost as much as Michael Moore, Arabic news channel Al Jazeera is watched by over 40 million viewers around the world. A persistent thorn in the side of the coalition during the invasion of Iraq, it's been labelled everything from "deplorable" (Donald Rumsfeld) to "the mouthpiece of Osama Bin Laden" (George W Bush). But then, as one American reporter explains in this sparky little documentary, the aim of good journalism is always to "ruffle a few feathers".
Directed by Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim (one half of the creative team behind the riveting Startup.com), Control Room follows Al Jazeera from early March 2003 up until the fall of Baghdad in April. Along the way there's plenty of shock and awe as the invasion of Iraq makes Al Jazeera ever more popular in the Arab world and US forces shell the Palestine hotel and bomb Al Jazeera's Baghdad office with fatal results.
"EMINENTLY WATCHABLE DOCUMENTARY"
The battle lines are clearly drawn: America accuses the station of being pro-Saddam propaganda. Al Jazeera claims it shows "the human cost" of the conflict. The first casualty of war is always truth, and in response, this breathless snapshot of life in the media frontline does its best to present as many different truths as possible. It invites dissenting voices to comment on the station's work, including US Marine Corps press officer Lt. Josh Rushing (tellingly, he has a sudden epiphany halfway through the film, realising that Al Jazeera is simply the inverse of the pro-American Fox News).
At just 84 minutes Noujaim's remarkable and eminently watchable documentary leaves many avenues unexplored (was Al Jazeera's decoupling from the New York Stock Exchange in March 2003 the price it had to pay for opposing Bush?). What it delivers so well, though, is a perceptive picture of the way in which modern warfare has turned the information battle into its permanent second front.
Partly in Arabic, with English subtitles.