Film about Aljazeera strikes a chord

A hit documentary about Aljazeera television has drawn emotional reactions this week in a rare screening in the Arab world where the popular channel is widely banned.

    Aljazeera has been banned in six Arab countries

    Control Room was a surprise hit at US box offices this year with its look at the channel and its coverage of the US-led war in Iraq.


    But the response of Arab viewers to the film, which has yet to be distributed in any Arab country, was one of anger and unease at the Dubai International Film Festival at a screening watched by Hollywood star Morgan Freeman.


    Many Arab governments have banned Aljazeera from their countries due to its reporting in a region where the media is mainly state-dominated, while Washington accuses it of provoking anti-US sentiment in the Arab world.

    Aljazeera rejects the allegations.

    For viewers, the film brought back memories of the huge firepower unleashed on Iraq.

    It also includes discussions among Arab journalists as well as US officials on the motives behind a deeply unpopular conflict.

    Viewers ridiculed Bush's requests
    regarding treatment of PoWs

    "You're appalling, you son of a dog. May your house be destroyed," one Egyptian woman loudly exclaimed at a clip of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ridiculing scenes of grieving Iraqis and bombed buildings as "stage-managed".


    Many laughed bitterly at soundbites from President George Bush requesting that Iraq treat US prisoners of war as well as the US military treats its PoWs.

    Revelations of abuse

    Revelations of US abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail have further enraged Arab feelings towards Washington.


    After a year taking the film around the US and the West, director Jehane Noujaim finally brought the film to the Middle East with showings in Dubai and Cairo.


    One Lebanese man who lives in Canada said he found it painful to watch the one-and-a-half hour movie.


    "I did not like the film. It made me feel sad," Gabriel Bakhazi said at a post-movie seminar. "I didn't see anything to laugh at. Your film made me feel more angry and powerless."


    Hasan Ibrahim, a Sudanese producer at Aljazeera who features in the film, responded: "Why are you afraid of realising the full gravity of the situation? But I thank you for your honesty, it's a beautiful reaction.


    "We'll keep on doing what we're doing. What the camera sees, we show"

    Hasan Ibrahim,
    Aljazeera producer

    "[Former Chinese ruler] Mao Zedong said the journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step and the first step is to realise the gravity of the situation. As a people (Arabs), we have a long journey ahead," he added to applause.


    Aljazeera now faces competition from rivals such as Saudi owned Al-Arabiya that have largely avoided run-ins with Arab governments and Washington with coverage perceived as less inflammatory.


    Asked about Aljazeera's reporting, Ibrahim responded: "We'll keep on doing what we're doing. What the camera sees, we show."

    Aljazeera is currently banned in six Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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