Time Out saysEgyptian-American director Noujaim spent the entire (official) length of last year’s Iraq war embedded with the staff of the Arabic television channel Al-Jazeera at the US Army’s press centre in Qatar. This desert palace of spin becomes an isolated theatre for Noujaim to explore the rituals and motives of the various members of the international media deployed there. Noujaim’s original, main interest remains Al-Jazeera throughout this excellent and incisive documentary, but we also witness the chief personalities of the American and other news networks on the job and, most intriguingly, the well-briefed army staff specifically employed to liaise with the press.
‘Between us, if I’m offered a job with Fox, I will take it,’ deadpans Samir Khader, a senior Al-Jazeera producer who permanently has a cigar in either his hand or mouth. Khader and Hassan Ibrahim – a BBC journalist-turned-Al Jazeera-reporter – are Noujaim’s loquacious stars, and both possess a steely confidence and smart irreverence typical of their channel. The inherent absurdism of reporting from a military HQ shines through: on the day that US troops finally enter Baghdad, the army press officers talk only of the kidnapped US soldier Jessica Lynch; and when the army spokesman announces their notorious ‘deck of cards’, he fails to provide hard evidence and instead hides in a back room.
Crackly tape recordings aside, most audiences will chiefly associate Al-Jazeera with the uproar over their decision to broadcast images of dead or injured soldiers and Iraqi citizens. This debate – and questions surrounding the bombing of the channel’s Baghdad office – are covered at close hand in an honourable film about a dishonourable war.