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Film Review: Al-Jazeera, Arab Voices

Film Review: Al-Jazeera, Arab Voices


By Sonia Nettnin

U.S. mainstream media coverage reports that terrorism predominates the Arab world. After the Arabic satellite news channel Al-Jazeera became available to Americans, viewers saw the stereotypes of the Arab people in the U.S. news cycle. As a result, Al-Jazeera, which means “the island,” challenged U.S. reporting of the Middle East. In a counter response, the U.S. government spearheaded a media rival.

The documentary, “Al-Jazeera, Arab Voices (Al Jazira, Des Voix Arabes),” Director Ali Essafi gives his audience an insider’s view -- for 52 minutes -- into the influential news network. His coverage of the station’s journalists continues the momentum in the closing days of the second annual Chicago International Documentary Film Festival.

“Al-Jazeera brings you uninterrupted coverage with its global network of reporters,” boasts an advertisement marquis, before the anchorman begins his introduction. Then, Essafi moves his lens in the newsroom. Behind a team of journalists-at-work, television screens stream the walls. The news feeds resound in the media room while the crew has a meeting. “The real issue is what’s happening in this region,” one man said.

Al-Jazeera, which means “the island,” is based in Qatar, along the Persian Gulf. Essafi films in Qatar primarily, with scenes in Baghdad, Brazil, Gaza, and the West Bank. He filmed the journalists in the days prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. One journalist commented how the people in the region feel about the war:

“Arabs feel humiliated and disappointed.”

An Al-Jazeera news feed discusses U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney’s connections with Halliburton. U.S. media coverage did not touch this issue until several months after the war. Essafi captures Al-Jazeera from the many angles Al-Jazeera investigates for its news reports.

During an Israeli-led invasion of Al-Boreij, Essafi shows Al-Jazeera’s footage. While Israeli Defense Forces’ in tanks shoot at the Palestinian people, a militant shoots at the tank from behind a wall.

The Palestinian resistance is a natural by-product of years of oppression, a journalist explained in an interview. They have had their land and resources invaded, he added.

Then Essafi takes viewers on Al-Jazeera’s on-site coverage of a U.S. compound. Although the camera man extended his exploration into a warehouse, the U.S. Army spokesperson asked he return immediately. During this scene, people chuckled in their seats. Essafi captures the risk-taking involved with the journalism profession.

Dima Khatib demonstrates her mastery English, French and Spanish as public speaker and reporter. Her dexterity at various journalism roles shows her expertise in the field. Film review aside, she is amazing.

The interviews with the journalists and their commentaries contain metaphorical descriptions of the Middle East that communicate their genuine sensibility. The scenes in Doha with the fisherman who pries open his clams are priceless.

Essafi shows the spiritual aspect of the region in camera shots of a minaret where a muezzin calls the people to prayer. These parts of the film show the unity in religion and culture in the region.

One of the journalists talked about Baghdad as a creative attitude. If anything, Essafi does an excellent job of documenting the creativity behind Al-Jazeera. He shows the realism and the professionalism of the media network. The film festival’s program states “attempts to categorize them as pro- or anti-West be d---ed: this film suggests that Al-Jazeera…is, above all, a voice for truth, modernity and freedom in the Arab world.”

Essafi’s filmography as director includes: Ouarzazate Movie (2001); Paris Mois Par Moi (1999); Le Silence Des Champs De Betteraves (1998); and General, Nous Voila (1997).

ENDS

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