Documentary film analysis of “CONTROL ROOM”.
In March 2003, American and British forces invaded Iraq with the intention to overthrow the regime of the dictator Saddam Hussein, and the Gulf War erupts. The countless military troops and thousands of journalists from all around the world, descend upon the region in order to secure potential news coverage.
“Truth ultimately finds its way to people’s eyes and ears and hearts”. This is the sentence, uttered by Secretary of Defence Donald H. Rumsfeld, and is heard midway through “Control Room” Jahane Noujaim’s bristling documentary about Al Jazeera, the satellite news network during the war. You can only hope that Mr. Rumsfeld is right, though his words inevitably call to mind the proverb, that in war, truth is the first casualty. (Scott, 2004; commondreams.com).
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Jehane Noujaim’s “Control Room” another high – profile entrant in the current sweepstakes of anti-Bush, anti- imperialist documentaries. As in her “Start up.com”, Noujaim focuses less on abstract issues and more on the personalities of the players as they react to events taking place. She was born and raised in Egypt before moving to America and that is probably one of the reasons of her unusual access and trust on both sides.
Al- Jazeera (one of the most popular channel in the Middle East with over 40 million Arab viewers) was launched in 1996. This observational documentary records the wide range of opinions that surrounds the Qatar television news network during Iraq invasion.
Turning up at the station’s headquarters in Qatar, Noujaim got to know reporter Hassan Ibrahim and senior producer Sameer Khadar, both from Al- Jazeera channel network, whose sympathy to her project enabled its success.
Most of ordinary people including journalists, who come into view in the documentary film are doubtful, to say the least of the Bush administration’s policies, but they also stick to a journalistic ethic of objectivity and fairness, trying to navigate between their political allegiances and the code of their craft. (Walters, New York Times 2004)
This particular documentary film is made of conversations of journalists and different people involved in the news industry. Though there are shots of dead civilians and bombardments with meat corpses, it is not the main subject in the film. The main subject is the real documentary shots showing people, journalists and their reaction to the events, their conversations and their actions. The shots of innocent Iraqi civilians being killed make the viewer feel very sorry for everything that is happening to them and their families. There for, the complete documentary film represents American military troops in the cruel and very ‘devil light’.
An Observational documentary mode: This film uses a ‘fly on the wall’ technique to observe the Al Jazeera journalists (and other media organisations) as they record stories and interact with the U.S. military media spokespersons. The main commentator in the name of Al Jazeera is the senior producer Sameer Khader. Conversation between the two organizations, which are Al Jazeera and US Central Command, is embodied in the interview between two individuals Hassan Ibrahim and the American press officer Lt. Rushing. Their conversations focus around conflict and the reason of the war, agenda’s and images and privy to many debates about neutrality and objectivity.In the observational documentary, the camera crew is not normally seen. The people who are being filmed are meant to forget, that the camera crew is there, this is aimed to give to the audience a “slice of reality”. (Predovnik, 2009 http/socio-political-documentaries. suite)
The observational mode (as technology advanced by the 1960s and cameras became smaller and lighter, able to document life in a less intrusive manner, there is less control required over lighting etc, leaving the social actors free to act and the documentaries free to record without interacting with each other). (www.mediaknowall.com/Documentary/definitions.htm)
Despite being seen as the most direct form of documentary film, there are a number of problems inherent in the genre, which has caused to be viewed with some suspicion. One of the main problems centres on the extent to which `verite` can be seen as offering a `real` or `true` picture of the subject it is involved in. Lukacs, for example has claimed that the cameras attention to the `here and now` is an inadequate mode of knowing. Events and objects are all caught in process of change and networks of causal relations that require representation, if the `true` story is to be understood. Lukacs claim, however that “…the extensive totality of reality is beyond the scope of any artistic creation”. In short, he is implying that `verite` is incapable of offering a true picture of its subject, because as an approach to documentary it is so limited in its scope. (Praxis international issue: 1/1986 p 82-94)
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Within the context of this piece of work, I am going to look on how editing can and does affect my documentary film. Editing can be defined as the art of being able to tell a story by connecting a series of shots together to make a sequence and thereby having a series of shots put together make a whole film. When editing is done well, it creates a continuity of sequence, which can make the film interesting and watchable.
The way in which the camera is used, its many movements and angels of vision in relation to the object being photographed, the speed in which it reproduces actions and the very appearance of person and things before it, are governed by the many ways in which editing is fulfilled. (Rotha, 1966:79)
In this particular documentary film, I have focused on the details of the opening scenes in the different aspects, whether it is a sound, camera angels or emotional influences, and if to pay attention, it is easy to see and understand the scenes and the way that the director expresses the key moments by using very sad music, dialogues and actions. Dialogues between the journalists and some other people related to the war story within the film are very crucial and important in order to follow the story. Those conversations give you a brief explanation of what is going on and who is probably the victim in the story. However, director of the film knew how to send a message to the viewer and most of all what kind of message, by finishing it all with a very clever and very provocative angle of editing in this film.
There are two scenes in this film, which I would like to highlight. One of them is when, on the fifteenths minute of the documentary, the director has showed us the archive footage of ordinary, unarmed, innocent people being humiliated and attacked by the U.S military troop’s right in their houses. The second scene, when the statue of Saddam Hussein being removed on the square and when people shown to us, are very cheerful about it, in my opinion, gives a very strong evidence of what director was trying to say in this documentary. Most importantly, when several journalists give us their thoughts and views about the moment, when this is all happening on the square, is vital for the whole structure of the film. That is probably, the essential part in order to understand and make your own `truth` about this documentary film.
By the end of“ Control Room” documentary, viewers make their own conclusion. In fact, in this documentary, we have been given a `truth`, which every single viewer will decide for him/her self. We are also presented with filmic evidence, in which Al Jazeera is keen to show both sides of an argument and engage in lots of discussions, including the airing of an American perspective. In my view, the editing of the shots and conversations, along with interviews, wounded pictures of children, played a key role in this documentary.
- A Portrait of Al Jazeera, Scott A. O, 2004; 09/12/2009 www. commondreams.com.
- Ben Walters, Film Notes, New York Times 2004
- Politics of War Predovnik, 09/12/ 2009 http/socio-political-documentaries. Suite
- Rotha, Paul 1966 Documentary Film, 3rd edn, London: Farber
- Documentary modes; 1935 09/12/2009 www.mediaknowall.com/Documentary/definitions.htm
- Praxis international issue: 1/1986 p 82-94
- An Introduction to Television Documentary (1998) ; Richard Kilborn and John Izod: Manchester University Press
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