Annapolis Film Festival '16: (T)ERROR Review

In a world where terrorists make the news weekly, someone has to be on the lookout for people who want to harm others. But what’s the price of that security? Who watches the watcher? What does it take to catch the bad guy? Saeed "Shariff" Torres, the main subject in (T)ERROR, is a documentarian’s golden goose. After two years of knowing the filmmakers, he confessed to being an FBI informant, and then proceeded to ask them to document his next assignment. What the viewer is presented with, is an astonishing, albeit limited look, at surveillance and the human impact of it.

We’re first introduced to Saeed as he complains about being on camera.  It’s interesting because we find out that he wanted to be documented. Shortly after, he’s calm and enjoying a basketball game. He explains that he became an informant in exchange for a reduced prison sentence for a New York City robbery he committed. We find him getting ready to go to another assignment in Pittsburgh. He needs the money, and he doesn’t have any love for muslims who malign the teaching of the Quran. He only has an obvious love for his son. 

As Saeed begins to settle in the safe house in Pittsburgh we see a map that he pins photos on. He explains that he has a POI (person of interest) that he is going to befriend at the local mosque. He makes it clear that he has his own way of gaining their trust, and that if he did things the way the FBI wanted he would never get any of the busts he’s gotten. His arrogance is somewhat off putting, but the espionage drama pulls you in closer.

When we’re first introduced to Khalifa, Saeed’s POI, we see him in black and white surveillance photos. We see a picture of him with an automatic weapon. Probably most importantly, we see his appearance in muslim garb. So it’s easy to side with the FBI and Saeed. What directors Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe do next is stunning as they interview Khalifa himself behind Saeed’s back.

As the viewer, you’re instantly hypnotized at watching a documentary being made without the FBI’s awareness with their paid informant Saeed; at the same time you get to see and hear the extremely intelligent, other side of the story through Khalifa’s own account of what he believes is happening. You’re able to put the truth together yourself seeing all sides “straight from the horse’s mouth” as they say.

(T)ERROR successfully leads us down a path of preconceptions and shocks us by providing truths that disturbs them. Perhaps the most disturbing realization is the questionable entrapment schemes set up by the FBI as shown in the documentary. Yes, it is limited in scope. No, paid informants aren’t new. But the questionable ethics of counter-terrorism as displayed is worth analyzing.

Rating: B+  

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.