A wife and five children sit around a dinner table, barely speaking. Picking at his food is the youngest son, 12, trying to hide his tearful face from his family. The family’s stress and tension, which has built throughout the documentary film, has become palpable to the audience.

The family members’ lives have been consumed by the trial of their husband and father, a Palestinian born in Kuwait who was charged with aiding the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. During individual interviews, family members expressed their frustration over what they see as an unjust trial.

The sympathetic documentary “USA vs. Al-Arian” is about computer science professor Sami Al-Arian’s almost five-year fight against terrorism charges. The film, which has received several film festival awards, premiered in Washington at the AMC Loews Uptown 1 Theater Wednesday.

Al-Arian came to the U.S. in 1975. He lived in Hillsborough County, Fla., and taught at the University of South Florida before his arrest in February 2003. His arrest and case received national media attention.

The film follows Al-Arian’s wife and five children during his six-month trial and includes interviews with the prosecution and defense attorneys, jurors, law professors and journalists.

At the one-night showing, sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the 850-seat theater was packed. The Norwegian film, directed by Line Halvorsen, was widely released in several countries, but it has been shown only at film festivals and special screenings in the U.S. Halvorsen hasn’t found a television network or DVD distributor here.

“The story at first glance may feel like it doesn’t concern you,” Halvorsen told the audience before the screening. “But on second look, it’s an important story to listen to, to discuss and act upon.”


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