Go inside a counterterrorism sting in ‘(T)ERROR’
January 24, 2015
Is the sacrifice of liberty worth the security it may or may not bring? Since 9/11, that’s been THE question most of us deal with on a consistent basis. That is also the question posed by the film "(T)ERROR," which premieres in the U.S. Documentary Competition of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Yarrow Theater.
Marking the first time that filmmakers have gained active access to an ongoing, real-time domestic counterterrorist investigation, the always riveting, oftentimes frustrating, and seldom totally rewarding look inside the FBI’s long-running anti-terrorist "sting factory" casts shadows both Orwellian and Kafkaesque.
After 20 years as a counterterrorism informant in the pay of the FBI and having second thoughts about his responsibility to the Feds versus those to his young son, the former black revolutionary turned Muslim turned informant, who has allowed the filmmakers into his somewhat creepy and clandestine world, begins to question his career path.
His handlers in the Bureau, however, whom we meet only through text messaging, continue to tighten the screws on his latest assignment to trap (entrap?) their current Muslim target into some kind of action that may be at odds with recent anti-terrorism statutes.
To their credit, filmmakers Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe don’t appear to be manifesting any particular agenda of their own. Rather, filmgoers are allowed to bring whatever biases they have gathered and make up their own minds as to the ethics-versus-results debate.
Cabral and Sutcliffe just allow events to unfold as a natural order of things in that ever-so-shadowy world where protagonists first befriend a terrorist suspect and then nudge him toward a destination choreographed by the FBI. What first makes the target a suspect, however, is rather suspect itself.
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In that the Feds are cloaked, if not daggered, mysteries as to wherefores and whys abound at every turn with punches only telegraphed by the ominous buzz that alerts one to an incoming text. What message will this one bring? And will it be the target or the handlers on the other end?
Co-Director and Producer Lyric R. Cabral, as it turns out, has known the informant and was his close neighbor for over a decade in a Harlem brownstone. And it was through that association that she and her filmmaking partner David Felix Sutcliffe were given access to his bizarre real-life story. I think what I liked best about the ramifications of the film is that no one is whom they pretend to be.
"One of the most fascinating parts of my filmmaking journey, while documenting ‘(T)ERROR,’ was being privy to communications between the FBI and our main character, a veteran counterterrorism informant," Cabral commented.
"These communications offered direct evidence of the FBI’s tasking orders, operational suggestions, and investigative methodology, and often differed from the practical assessments being made by our main character in the field."
Sutcliffe’s take is equally astounded. "Incredibly, we’ve been able to capture not only the inner workings of an active counterterrorism sting operation, but also the deeply personal story of one of the FBI’s 15,000 informants. This is a profoundly complicated man, one who exists firmly outside the boundaries of a good/evil binary.
"And despite my initial expectations that our story would land him firmly in the latter category, his complications, charms, and gut-churning betrayals have obstructed any attempts, whatsoever, to place him in anything other than a sea of gray. All I can hope is that this film will upset and confuse viewers the same way that it has upset and confused me."
Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s "(T)ERROR" is an entry in the U.S. Documentary Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It premieres Saturday, Jan. 24, at 6 p.m. at the Yarrow Hotel Theatre. Additional screenings are Sunday, Jan. 25, at 9 p.m. at the Tower Theatre; Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 12:15 p.m. at the Temple Theatre; Thursday, Jan. 29, at 5:30 p.m. at the Prospector Square Theatre; Friday, Jan. 30, at 9 a.m. at the Temple Theatre; and Saturday, Jan. 31, at 3 p.m. at Broadway Centre Cinema 6.