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Thu June 17, 2004
The Control Room
Rumsfeld's "truth" may come more from the beleaguered Arab network than the carefully controlled coalition.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declares in the early stages of the Iraq War, ''Truth ultimately finds its way to people's eyes and ears and hearts,'' I knew I would like "Control Room." I did feel truth peeking through the eyes of the Al-Jazeera Satellite network coverage of the war, perhaps the most damning moment coming when the coalition forces attack the Al-Jazeera building and kill a prominent journalist.
Egyptian-born, Harvard-educated director Jehane Noujaim, having worked with D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus on ''Only the Strong Survive'' and ''Startup.com," is no objective documentarian: She cuts her film to the best advantage of the Arab network as the voice of the Arab oppressed and to the obvious discomfort of the " occupying" forces, especially the US.
If you factor in her bias and listen to the occasionally reasonable Centcom Press Officer, Lt. Josh Rushing, you may yet believe that Rumsfeld's "truth" comes more from the beleaguered Arab network than the carefully controlled coalition. But Rushing provides the most truth in the film, for instance, when he confesses, "Our rule back here is to not spin, but sometimes we catch ourselves doing a little spin on a story. You can't help it." Lt. Rushing is one of the more interesting characters, at first a central-casting officer spouting the Pentagon message. But when he sees film of suffering and dead American soldiers, he admits, "It makes me hate war." Regardless of which side you're on, most viewers can relate.
When an Arab producer exclaims that the drama unfolding is just like an American movie, where the god guys are easily identifiable, the bad guys will be punished, and the audience wants to know how the ending will be reached, the director mixes fiction and reality in a way that reminds all students of film there cannot be truly unbiased films once someone picks up a camera.
Let "Control Room" stand tall next to last year's "Fog of War," starring a still-sharp and still-deluded Robert McNamara, looking a bit like Donald Rumsfeld. His statement about Al-Jazeera, ''We are dealing with people who are willing to lie to the world to make their case,'' is too ironic to be left out of a documentary that makes a liberal criticism of the neocons' great war seem, well, believable.
There are so many secrets and lies in the world political scene today that I am reminded of Joseph Conrad's Marlow in "Heart of Darkness," who said there was "a flavor of mortality in lies, -- which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world -- what I want to forget." The official body count in Iraq may be mute testimony to the legacy of lies. Like the 9/11 Commission report on the lack of connection between Iraq and al-Qaida, "Control Room" tries to balance the scales before Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" upsets them even more.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.