NORWEGIAN DOCUMENTARY: USA VS AL-ARIAN
An Exposed release of a Dalchows Verden, NRK Norwegian Broadcasting Corp., On-Line Halvorsen production, in association with TV2 Danmark, YLE FST, Sveriges Television, Al Arabiya, Hellenic Broadcasting Corp. (International sales: TV2World, Copenhagen.) Produced by Jan Dalchow.
Directed by Line Halvorsen. Camera (color, DV/HD/DigiBeta-to-35mm), Tone Andersen; editors, Trond Winterkjaer, Halvorsen; music, Stein Berge Svendsen; sound (Dolby Digital), Stephen Henry, Dave Olive, Lance Robson, Halvorsen, Dalchow; sound designers, Erling Rein, Peter Clausen. Reviewed at Tromso Film Festival (Horizons), Jan. 18, 2007. Running time: 102 MIN.
With: Sami Al-Arian, Nahla Al-Arian, Abdullah Al-Arian, Laila Al-Arian, Leena Al-Arian, Ali Al-Arian, Lama Al-Arian, Peter Erlinder, David Bonior, Linda Moreno, William B. Moffitt, Paul I. Perez, David Cole, Meg Laughlin.
(English, Arabic dialogue)
Though unquestionably biased, eye-opening docu “USA vs Al-Arian” throws the spotlight on a justice system shanghaied by the Patriot Act, leaving a deeply sympathetic family frayed but not quite broken. Branded the most dangerous man in the U.S., Tampa-based computer science professor Sami Al-Arian came through a six-month trial with no charges sticking, but the judge ignored the jury and Al-Arian is still in jail. Norwegian helmer Line Halvorsen constructs a damning portrait of the case by focusing on the trial’s emotional toll. Docu picked up the Tromso fest’s audience prize, signaling further fest play before possible cable pickup. . .
Halvorsen interviews law professors and reporters, but it’s the family that gets the most screen time. Thoroughly American, the Al-Arian kids are an incredibly articulate group, held together by their mutual support and the determination of mom Nahla to keep them strong. Phone calls from dad in prison become a daily routine.
Despite years of surveillance, the government couldn’t make a strong case for holding Al-Arian. Even after sifting through 472,000 telephone calls made from the family home since the ’90s — watching Nahla and kids listen to pizza delivery conversations from a decade earlier is especially disturbing — nothing concrete could be found. . .
To end the legal nightmare, he agreed to plead guilty to aiding members of a militant Palestinian group, believing his troubles would be over with a simple but painful deportation. Instead, the judge threw the book at him, sentencing him to a further 19 months before kicking him out of the country.
Halvorsen, backed up by legal experts, presents the verdict as a blow not only to the family but also to American justice.
Helmer obviously gained the confidence of the family, which allowed her to shoot both ups and downs with apparent freedom. (However, once he was sentenced, she was denied access to Al-Arian himself.) Blow-ups from various formats look fine on the big screen, and final song, by Morten Naess, provides a powerful coda.