SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2015
By Don Simpson | January 29, 2015
Directors: Lyric R. Cabral, David Felix Sutcliffe
For the first hour of (T)ERROR directors Lyric R Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe focus on an undercover FBI informant, Saeed (aka “Shariff”), who has granted them an “all access” pass to his final counterterrorism operation (unbeknownst to the FBI, of course). During the seven months that the filmmakers spend with Saeed in Pittsburg, his sole POI (person of interest) is Khalifah Al-Akili, a Caucasian American who converted to a militant Islam sect after being raised Protestant. The 63-year old informant does his best to ingratiate himself into Al-Akili’s world, all the while receiving vague directions from the FBI.
Saeed is an ex-Black Panther, ex-convict and practicing Muslim. He knows how to walk the walk and talk the talk of Muslim extremists, yet it is hard to determine how much of what he says is real. Cabral and Sutcliffe review Saeed’s life as an FBI informant and the cases he has worked in the past, most famously contributing to the conviction of jazz bassist Tarik Shah in Brooklyn. Despite his history, the more we get to know Saeed during this intriguing character study, the more unbelievable it seems that he is repeatedly cast by the FBI to play this role, but it is equally confounding how clumsy the operation appears to be.
In the final third of (T)ERROR, Cabral and Sutcliffe opt for a different angle. Rather than spoiling the narrative twist, it is probably best to just say that it reveals their political motivations as filmmakers while also taking the film to a much higher level. Suddenly Cabral and Sutcliffe are able to talk about the FBI’s post-9/11 propensity for the entrapment of Muslims and the haphazard cases that they compile with the help of informants like Saeed. In the eyes of the directors, there have been several innocent Muslims who were incarcerated just because they were coaxed into saying something anti-American by a FBI informant. These Muslims did not actually do anything wrong, they just said the wrong thing at the wrong time.