Monday, 15 September 2014

TERROR AT THE MALL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw Watches TV: HBO Canada Docs

Terror at the Mall (2014)
Dir. Dan Reed

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In a strictly Orwellian sense, the preponderance of closed circuit surveillance footage is not only creepy, but it's clearly the very thing which proves how little privacy any of us have. There's something very wrong with being monitored by camera from every vantage point no matter where we are.

Then again, public spaces are not private and as such, none of us have anything we can object to if we choose to avail ourselves of such spaces. At least this is how the proponents of said Big Brother eyeballing of our every move will always argue. The greater public good, they say, will always trump personal desires for privacy - especially in terms of both crime detection and prevention. However, when the perpetrators of said crimes have no intention of surviving, how necessary is it? Such must certainly be the case with the scumbag cowards of the Somalian terrorist group Shabab who, one year ago, marched into the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya and began to gun down innocent civilians in the name of Allah, or whatever screwy reason they had to do so.

Caught on over 100 mall surveillance cameras in addition to cel phone cameras, the amount of footage which exists with respect to this act will never be a deterrent to such mindless acts of violence and it's doubtful there's even a good reason for its existence in terms of crime solving. These idiots continue to dive into these sickening, moronic actions dreaming of virgin conquest in an afterlife or whatever dopey, boneheadedly ignorant belief systems they've allowed themselves to swallow in order to justify their brutal violence.

Without this footage, however, we would not be privy to filmmaker Dan Reed's harrowing HBO documentary Terror at the Mall which is clearly an important document of this heinous event. On one hand, Reed's film superbly blends the existing surveillance (and private cel phone) footage with post-event interview footage of survivors identified in said footage. On the other, it feels like a carefully mediated testament.

First and foremost, though, the film is a document of incredible acts of heroism, sacrifice and an examination of the thought process of normal human beings under the duress of armed assault in the unlikeliest of places. Surely for this reason alone, the existence of such footage has served an important historical purpose. In spite of this, does not such footage profane the memory of those caught digitally who are seen cowering in terror, running madly in panic and/or cut down by the bullets of the terrorists? Is this stealing of their images somehow not, as many cultures believe, a theft of the souls, the spirits, the inherent humanity of the victims?

These are worthwhile questions.

Reed appears to have no interest, at least overtly, in answering or at least addressing them. This will probably be a far better approach for a completely different film, but that Reed's work inspires these questions suggests it had to have been an element he chose to play with - perhaps not at the forefront, but always there in the background.

One other element with respect to the "creep factor" of surveillance footage is the specific aesthetic of it. There's nothing especially human and most often, not mediated by the perspective, or, if you will, the hearts, hands, eyes and minds of humans. The footage is raw. It is what it is - cameras perched, usually from God's eye view (the notion of which is especially creepy). It's an otherworldly perspective - a purely digital mapping of events. Reed clearly understands this and if anything, his superbly chosen juxtaposition of real-life interviews with the surveillance footage does apply a sense of humanity to the proceedings - one that is as humane as it is clearly the work of a genuine film artist. If I had one minor quibble, it's that the scope of this film is so large that I almost didn't want it to end. This, of course, is probably a compliment rather than a quibble, but the fact remains that the film could well have survived a substantially longer length, yet still delivered the goods with the same power.

What finally remains for us in Terror at the Mall is the horrific experience of knowing we are seeing actual footage of terrorism and that what Reed is most interested in, is ultimately, courage. There is fear, to be sure, but in many ways, true courage can only be borne out of fear and one ultimately must salute Reed and his team for giving these people a voice in light of actions that will be seared upon them forever.

And perhaps, that very thing emblazoned upon the minds of the victims is the very thing that will never leave our consciousness so that we might all be ready and prepared to face the worst this mad world has to offer us and, in turn, to realize it's okay to be scared.

For out of fear, comes courage and from courage, comes life.

The importance of this production cannot be stressed enough. Terror at the Mall is, finally, must-see viewing for everyone - adults and children. (My own little girl was deeply moved by this experience in ways that only kids can be moved.) So screw whatever crap you were planning to watch on TV as this terrific film is being broadcast. Nothing that's on can come close to how your life and those you love will be touched by the subjects, events and themes of this picture. It'll be an hour out of your life, but one that will contribute a lifetime of thought and consideration.


Terror at the Mall premieres on HBO and HBO Canada in North American broadcast territories. Check your local listings for dates and times.