Fantasia Film Festival Review: (T)ERROR

TERROR BANNERThe power that documentaries hold is such a strong one, that when done right, they can be very effective in a eye-opening kind of way. There is such a level of storytelling that cannot be compared to watching real life unfold in front of your eyes, it’s mind-blowing at times. Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s completely engaging documentary (T)ERROR does just that: puts you right in the middle of a real time situation involving an FBI counter-terrorism informant and leaves you speechless by the time the end credits roll.

In (T)ERROR, we follow Saeed, an informant who takes on one last job, this time being told by the FBI to engage and help incriminate a suspected terrorist named Khalifah al-Akili. Right from the beginning of the film, as an audience member, you feel like you’re watching a real life spy tale unfolding right in front of you. Saeed takes the assignment due to the mismanaging of his money and wanting to make enough money to take care of his son. Given a new place to stay and continual input and directions from the FBI, Saeed, now being called Shariff, recounts what led him to become an informant, his past being a part of Black Panther revolutions and charges that made it almost impossible NOT to turn informant. From the very beginning, we see a man who regrets a lot of what he has done, and as we come to see with the al-Akili case, for good reason.

It’s addicting, watching the real time story of Shariff being instructed to do everything from attempting to befriend al-Akili, a Muslim who was raised Protestant, and who posts things on Facebook such as pictures of himself at a gun range and posts about admiring martyrs who have died for the Taliban cause. While that might seem like an easy villain of a person to most, the more that Shariff is instructed to try to befriend and even get al-Akili to talk about terrorist activity, something just seems off to you as a viewer. The film is told without a certain bias-filled agenda, and the sting operation is nothing but poorly constructed, with the FBI causing Shariff to continually do things that could very well jeopardize his assignment and put not only his but the life and family of al-Akili in danger. It’s somewhat of a sad story, with Shariff having had his cover blown by the agency before, causing him to lose every friend he had and making his informant status a shaky one.

Where the film holds it strength is in how co-directors Cabral and Sutcliffe don’t create the typical good guy vs. bad guy documentary, instead opting for ongoing interviews with both men, allowing us as viewers to see how uncomfortable Shariff is with the assignment, not feeling that it’s an assignment that is put together adequately, and al-Akili, a Muslim man with a family who really hasn’t done anything worthy of being the target of a large operation like the one in the film.

(T)ERROR is a film that is more than your typical “day in the life of” kind of documentary, it’s a film that shows two men, one of which is forced to lead a secret life and almost coerce the other into standing behind ideas and beliefs that we as an audience, aren’t even sure that he has, and the other man, trying to raise a family while being targeted in ways that are shadowy at best.  It’s a solid, completely eye opening experience of a film, one that shows that sometimes in the war on terror, people are assumed to be something they’re not.