Terror! Films reviewed: Warriors from the North, Help us Find Sunil Tripathi, (T)error, A War of Lies, PLUS Ex Machina

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Terrorism by CulturalMining.com on April 24, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Some people are terrified of terrorists — and for good reason. In Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan or Iraq, lots of people are dying. Other people are terrified of being mistaken for a terrorist by the very people – police or intelligence officers – that should be protecting them.  So this week I’m looking at documentaries about the War on Terror and how it affects us. These films are all playing at Hot Docs – Toronto’s international documentary film festival – starting today. And on a lighter note, I’m reviewing a science fiction movie… about sexy robots.

Warriors_From_the_North_2Warriors from the North
Dir: Søren Steen Jespersen, Nasib Farah

Al-Shabab is a Somalia-based fundamentalist militant group, that sprung up in reaction to Ethiopia’s invasion of that country. Now its members claim responsibility for notorious events like the 148 people gunned down at Garissa University College a few weeks ago, and the massacre at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, both in Kenya. This movie is about the young ethnic Somalis from Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Norway – who join the group to act as suicide bombers. Why do they do it? In a series of interviews, a youngWarriors_From_the_North_5-1 Somali-Danish man explains. He says members come to recruit despondent young men who feel they have no future and don’t fit in. The local mosques are strongly opposed to Al-Shabab — killing is condemned, but the recruiters deride them as weak. The movie opens with a shocking scene: Somalis at their graduation in Djibouti – young doctors all – blown up by a Danish suicide bomber. The movie follows an older man, who works at the Tivoli in Copenhagen, whose son has disappeared with Al-Shabab and gone to Somalia. The father is desperate to find his son, talk to him by phone, and convince him to give it all and just come home again. But as becomes clear in recordings of Al-Shabab members, you couldn’t leave even if you want to. Very touching story.

Help_Us_Find_Sunil_Tripathi_1Help us Find Sunil Tripathi
Dir: Neal Broffman

Sunil is a straight A student, a saxophone player and an all around nice guy. But after a few years at Brown University, things start going bad. He’s depressed. And one day, he just walks away from it all and disappears. His family is devastated, so, along with sympathetic volunteers, they start a huge search for him on foot in Providence Rhode Island, and online using facebook. They post his face, and a plea to him – come home, Sunil, we love you. Soon after, a horrific attack stuns the world – the bombing of the Boston Marathon. The city is locked down for a massive manhunt. And somehow, on Reddit and Twitter, someone mistakenly decides that the blurry images of a man in a white hat… is Sunil. Sunil is a terrorist! It goes viral, and the family and friends searching for their wonderful lost brother are subject to what can only be described as an on-line lynching of the missing boy. The film chronicles this harrowing period when they’re flooded by venomous online attacks and, as always, a voracious mass news media desperately trying to catch up with social networks.

Cabral_Lyric(T)error
Dir: David Felix Sutcliffe

About 50% of the arrests the FBI makes in its War on Terror are actually targeted sting operations using paid informants. And some are more dubious than others. This doc looks at both sides of such an operation, the asset and the target.
Saeed, aka Shariff, is a bit of a character. He’s an older African American Muslim man, a former black panther, who is an informant for the FBI. And – without telling the Feds – he allows a filmmaker, Cabral Lyric, to follow him around. His job? To attract and entrap terror_3.135x135potential POIs – persons of interest – within urban, Muslim communities who might be ripe for terrorism in the eyes of the FBI. The target? Khalifa, a white convert to Islam in Pittsburgh terror_1who sports a long beard and a turban. The FBI says Khalifa sympathizes with Al-Shabab. How do they know? He writes his outspoken views publicly, on facebook. Cameras follow both Shariff and Khalifa, who tells the filmmakers he suspects an FBI informant is trying to entrap him! He doxes the informants and plans a press conference. This real-life dramatic thriller is part absurd comedy, part tragedy, as it goes behind the scenes to show the FBI excesses in their War on Terror.

The previous cases are all small scale stories. The next one is as big as they come.

War_of_Lies_2A War of Lies
Dir: Matthias Bittner

Rafid al-Janabi was a prospective refugee in the late 1990s. He fled Iraq to escape Saddam Hussein’s ruthless government, but in Germany he was singled out as a Person Of Interest by their secret service. Despite the fact he had nothing much to tell them, he decided to play along – maybe it would speed up his refugee status. He told them he’s a chemical engineer who worked War_of_Lies_1at the MIC – the military industrial complex. And that he had access to a secret unit in the desert at Al Hakam that makes biological weapons. The problem is the UN had already closed that unit down. But Rafid concocted an explanation that couldn’t be disproven.  Saddam, he said, War_of_Lies_3drove his weapons around in three trucks.  (He remembered there was a truck depot not too far from Al Hakam, so satellites would see trucks driving around the area.) And, after brushing up on chemical engineering, he drew pictures to support his story. Who can it hurt? And if it overthrows a dictator like Saddam, all the better.

Known by the codename Curveball, Rafid didn’t realize that his little WMD story would reach Washington and — after 9/11 — would be used to justify the entire US invasion of Iraq, and the war, death, destruction and terror that followed. The film shows Farid himself, the trickster and storyteller, in a dark, echoey room recounting/confessing his side of the story, illustrated by spooky reenactments and period footage. This is a great, chilling doc.

19f5ba0b-e4a6-4594-a987-d6b34fe19f90Ex Machina
Dir: Alex Garland

Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) is a skinny, wimpish blond guy who works as a programmer. He wins a lottery to spend a week with Nathan, the secretive CEO of his company, a google-like search engine. Nathan (Aaron Isaac) is a burly guy with a buzzed scalp and a bushy black beard. He’s obnoxious, aggressive and lives in an isolated villa somewhere in a lush rainforest valley. He’s also a genius. He brought Caleb there to conduct a Turing Test. A Turing Test determines whether an Artificial Intelligence program – AI – can pass as a human.

Here’s the twist. This AI is Ava a beautiful, female robot (Alicia Vikander) who Calebf8a502ec-ad59-4c67-a035-43f8df86e390 speaks to through a glass wall. They form a sort of relationship – is it love? –  as she begins to feel more and more real to him. Aaron tells Caleb she’s anatomically correct. Each day, the electric generator in the place shuts down and the cameras turn off. And that’s when she confides in him – Aaron is evil and not to be trusted. Who b8c380eb-808a-4eac-840b-f93ac5d6ba3cwill Caleb side with: Aaron or Ava? Is she really alive… or just a robot? And what about Aaron? And Caleb…? Is anything real?

This is a cool, interesting science fiction movie. You have to admit though, it’s a total guy fantasy, where the woman are all machines created by men for their pleasure. And that’s basically what the movie is… but the acting is great, and there are enough twists, turns and tension to keep it very interesting. I like this movie a lot.

Ex Machina opens today in Toronto, and this week you can find (T)error, Warriors from the North, a War of Lies, and Help us find Sunil Tripathi all playing, starting right now, at hot docs. Go to hotdocs.ca for showtimes.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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