Gulf Premiere of ‘Control Room’ a Rousing Success

Wed Dec 08,2004

One month behind the scenes of the Al Jazeera news network allowed Jehane Noujaim to see the truth surrounding the invasion of Iraq, and that truth was far different from what the rest of the world was seeing, the director of documentary Control Room told a sold-out cinema at the film’s Gulf premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival yesterday.

“Everyone was hearing a different reality about Iraq and the war, and I wanted to get at the truth, to gain perspective about the invasion and discover what was really behind the conflict,” Noujaim said at a panel discussion immediately following the screening.

With the subject of Iraq still dominating headlines around the world, interest at the film is an all-time high, particularly in the Western world saturated with the unified viewpoint put across by the US networks. Last night’s screening highlighted the cross-sectional appeal of the film in the Gulf: from American legendary actor Morgan Freeman to UAE-based nationals and expatriates, every section of the society was represented.

The film particularly struck a chord with the media personnel present at the screening. “Control Room was a very moving and revealing experience, because it really showed how the Western media has manipulated the whole Iraq war by focusing on only a part of the picture,” one journalist commented. “Noujaim was able to avoid that and get to the heart of the story because she was not censored by the network or by any government body.”

Control Room is a film as unusual as it is renowned: it begins days before the US-led invasion of Iraq and ends with the fall of Baghdad a month later. During that time, it introduces viewers to the heart of the Al Jazeera newsroom, recognized as the voice of the Arab world; the US military command media centre in Doha; and the way in which those two key actors gather, present and sometimes even create versions of the truth.

In the West, the film was a sleeper hit, providing many Americans with their first look at the Iraq war from a point of view contrary to that espoused by the US media networks. Noujaim said the film has also been appreciated and affirmed by many US soldiers, who want to pass it on to new recruits to educate them about the situation in Iraq. The film also wowed the American media, especially at the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

One of the most difficult parts of the film, Noujaim said, was to edit the 200 hours of footage she gained into 90 minutes of documentary, particularly because she was so emotionally involved and passionate about its subject.


“I never expected to find what I did, and to have the experiences I had at Al Jazeera,” Noujaim said. “My experiences at the station showed me the professionalism of the network and its staff, and I left with a new respect for them.”


Last night’s panel discussion also featured Noujaim, producer Hani Salama and Al Jazeera correspondent Hassan Ibrahim, and was chaired by Dubai-based media personality Nima Abu Wardeh.

“It is important to show Control Room in the Festival and in the Middle East, and not only because of the growing importance of Al Jazeera and other Arab news networks,” said panel organizer and Festival programmer Antonia Carver. “This isn’t just a film about Al Jazeera, but about the war in Iraq. It tells the story of the war by getting to the heart of its coverage.”


Noujaim expressed similar sentiments during a stopover in Dubai earlier this week. “This is one of the first places I wanted to take the film,” she said. “The subject was in such demand in the United States because of the new perspectives it offered for them… But you need to have real champions of these films (in the Middle East).”

Control Room will screen again at 2.15 pm on Thursday, December 9, at the Madinat Theatre.


Festival prices range from Dh. 10 for the four open-air “Screen on the Green” films (Lawrence of Arabia, Gagamboy (Spiderman), Mr. India and Five Children And It) at the Dubai Media City amphitheater to Dh. 20 for regular screenings at DIFF main venues and Dh. 50 for the red-carpet gala screenings at the Madinat Arena, Madinat Jumeirah Arabian Resort-Dubai. Two special offers – student discounts and a Five-Flick deal that offers a set of five regular screening tickets for the price of four – have also been created to make the Festival accessible to all UAE residents and visitors.


Three DIFF box offices are currently open for business: at the CNN Building Lobby in Dubai Media City from 11 am to 6 pm until December 6, and until 8 pm during the Festival; at the Madinat Theatre in the Souk at Madinat Jumeirah from 11 am to 9 pm until December 6 and until 10.30 pm during the Festival; and at the Mercato mall from 10 am to 6.30 pm until December 6, and until 10.30 pm during the Festival.


Additional box offices will open on December 7 at the Madinat Arena, and at the Auditorium at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel on December 8.

Telephone bookings and orders can be made with the Box Office on (04) 367 6701 / (04) 367 6707 for advance bookings and directions to box office venues.

The Dubai International Film Festival will be held between December 6 and 11, 2004, and will feature approximately 75 films including features, retrospectives and short films. The Festival is divided into 10 distinct programs, each focusing on a particular Festival theme. DIFF is presented by Dubai Media City and its presenting sponsors are Dubai Duty Free, Emirates, Madinat Jumeirah Arabian Resort-Dubai, and Nakheel.  DIFF Gold Sponsors are DOM International, The Kanoo Group and National Bank of Dubai, and Silver Sponsors are Arabian Radio Network, Atlas Telecom, Dubai Radio Network, E-Vision and Motivate Publishing.


Media Note: A special Web site has been created exclusively for members of the press at The site contains an archive of press releases and clippings in Arabic and English, in addition to high-resolution images available for download. Stills downloaded from the site are for promotional purposes only and any usage must include a credit as being courtesy of the rights holder.




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