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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 20:55 GMT 21:55 UK
Al-Jazeera film storms US box office
By Sebastian Usher
BBC world media correspondent

A documentary about the most-watched Arab news station al-Jazeera has broken box office records in its first week's showing in New York.

Control Room
A scene from Control Room, with senior producer Samir Khader

The film, Control Room, shows how al-Jazeera's journalists covered the Iraq war.

Its success indicates the interest some Americans have in finding out more about a TV station that has been heavily criticised by the Bush administration.

To many in the US, like Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it is a fount of anti-American propaganda and even a mouthpiece for Osama Bin Laden.

The controversy over its role has made the release in America of a documentary about al-Jazeera an event.

'Smash hit'

In its opening weekend at the prestigious Film Forum Cinema in New York, every performance was sold out.

The Film Forum often serves as a testing ground for less mainstream films.

Control Room's distributor, Magnolia Pictures, says its success there has already provoked considerable interest from cinemas across the US for when the film goes on general release next month.

Jehane Nougaim
Film-maker Jehane Nougaim followed al-Jazeera during the war

The influential political and cultural website, Salon.com, is predicting that Control Room will be the summer smash hit documentary.

The film, directed by the Arab-American documentary maker Jehane Nougaim, depicts al-Jazeera as a serious, professional organisation that just happens to approach the news from a different perspective to American networks.


US reviews have been positive, with critics like David Sterritt and the Christian Science Monitor saying it highlights the fundamental fact that no side has a monopoly on insight and conviction.

Certainly, the film's release is timely, with al-Jazeera still making the news as well as reporting it.

It came out on the day a second al-Jazeera employee was killed in Iraq.

The death of the first provides one of the key scenes in the documentary.

Al-Jazeera's spokesman, Jihad Balut, says he is not surprised Americans want to see the film because the station has stirred so much controversy.

He hopes it may act as a corrective al-Jazeera's negative portrayal in the US.

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