The Story of the Weeping Camel; Control Room

 The Story of the Weeping Camel

A pleasing docudrama filmed in Southern Mongolia. The director, Byambusuren Davaa, comes from this area, grew up in the city but wanted to portray the way of life in the Gobi desert that his grandparents had lived. The film focuses on an extended family, their relationships, the different generations: the wisdom of the grandparents, the practical skills and experience of the parents, the portrait of two young brothers and their little sister. The film's showing life in the home, with attention to the fine details of the decorations and hangings in the tent are often quite funny and moving.

The film also focuses on the camels which the people herd in the desert. The grandfather beginning with his story of the camels originally having antlers but then giving them to the envious deer - but the deer never returned the antlers, which left the camels perpetually staring into the distance. Central to the film is a very difficult birth of a camel calf and the mother's disdain for her young, the desperation of the young colt, especially to get to his mother to feed. The family send the young boys into the town to bring back a violinist to play ritual music to soothe the mother, and this is effective. This part of the film is quite emotional as audiences respond deeply to the mother's rejection and then her weeping at the music and drawing close to the colt. The film also shows the young boys interested in city life and television and the finale of the film shows the city coming to the desert and the family setting up a satellite dish on their tent.

The film was the official Mongolian film nominating for selection for Best Foreign Language Oscar. It won a SIGNIS commendation at the Hong Kong Festival.

Control Room

With all the excitement generated by Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, this brief documentary runs the danger of being lost in the crowd. That would be a pity. It is not flamboyant and satirical like Michael Moore's film, but they are useful companion cinema experiences.

Control Room is a documentary about Al Jazeera television and its role during the first month of the war in Iraq. It is not specifically an attack on the Bush administration. It has a strong point of view, of course, but it is a film where Al Jazeera can make a case for itself, especially against the criticisms of the US military and of Donald Rumsfeld.

It uses the traditional documentary techniques of interviews with the various personnel involved in the station, managers, producers, translators, reporters and office staff. Some of these are clearly critical of the American invasion and sympathetic to the plight of the Iraquis. The documentary also includes footage screened on Al Jazeera, especially images of dead American soldiers as well as Iraqui officials interrogating bewildered captured personnel. Interspersed are excerpts from the daily military briefings at Central Command for the Coalition (in Quatar where Al Jazeera is located) and a continuing conversation with a patriotic young American military media officer who is more open to the contradictions he finds in the waging of the war, the bombings, the pictures of the dead and wounded and the information given by the US. The film also includes some American network reporters' criticism of the briefings, especially their being shown the famous deck of cards with the `Most Wanted' but then not being given access to the cards themselves.

While each station has its policy and determines what is to be screened and how material is to be edited, Al Jazeera is set up for Arab viewers and has a policy of wariness about American sources. The criticisms made by the Americans, especially Donald Rumsfeld with his insistence on showing the truth, imply that their policy is one of objective reporting. Seeing what is allowed on screen and seeing some of the `puff' (and brief) and flattering pieces for the networks reminds us that the American reporting of the war is patriotic, at times jingoistic and means that American criticism of Al Jazeera needs to be made with a look at American behaviour. This culminates in the bombing (with live action footage included) of the Al Jazeera broadcasting headquarters in Bahgdad in the early weeks of the war.

It is also important to see what happened in March-April 2003 and hear what was said then in the light of the subsequent events of 2003-2004. This is a film about perceptions and the creating of perceptions.
LONDON - 2 August 2004 - 763 words

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