FilmIFFBoston 2015Review

IFF Boston Review: FBI Informant Documentary ‘(T)ERROR’ is an Incredible Indictment of Post-9/11 Counterterrorism Tactics

Wesley Emblidge ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor

FBI informant Saeed Torres in the documentary (T)ERROR. Photo Credit: Charlotte Street Films
FBI informant Saeed Torres in the documentary (T)ERROR. Photo Credit: Charlotte Street Films

In 2002, journalist/filmmaker Lyric Cabral met her new Harlem neighbor Saeed Torres. Cabral had been an continued to report on issues of counterterrorism, and in 2005 Torres revealed to her he was an FBI informant, and in 2011 let her and co-director David Felix Sutcliffe start filming parts of his latest assignment, without the knowledge of his FBI superiors. This is (T)ERROR, and the unexpected places it goes are unexpected, riveting and reveals what’s really problematic about the tactics of post-9/11 counterterrorism.

Calling himself “Shariff,” Torres is sent to Philadelphia to investigate a member of the local Muslim community. A former Black Panther with Muslim background and an arrest for robbery (the latter being when he was turned informant), he’s got the perfect “cred” to gain trust with the kinds of people profiled by the FBI.

FBI agents in the documentary (T)ERROR. Photo Credit: Charlotte Street Films
FBI agents in the documentary (T)ERROR. Photo Credit: Charlotte Street Films

The issue that slowly comes out with Torres’ investigation, and as a result his past and other’s work, is how far the FBI will go to charge and convict targets without gathering any hard evidence against them. It’s the problem with trying to stop attacks before they happen, because there’s a pressure to stop plans even before they’ve been created. (T)ERROR shows us just how far that can go, and demands a major re-evaluation of way the 15,000 informants (a number that increased tenfold after 9/11) are used by the agency and to what end.

FBI informant Saeed Torres in the documentary (T)ERROR. Photo Credit: Charlotte Street Films
FBI informant Saeed Torres maps Philadelphia in the documentary (T)ERROR. Photo Credit: Charlotte Street Films

What makes Cabral and Sutcliffe’s documentary so impressive though is how it surprises you with these revelations. From the start it’s very low-fi, with generally bad camerawork and audio, yet through editing they’re piecing together a very elaborate argument that sneaks up on you later on. Just having an exclusive source is one thing, and many filmmakers would be satisfied with that. What sets (T)ERROR apart is that the source is just their starting point, and where and who they go to from him is the real story that you want to pay attention to.

Overall Grade: B+

The Independent Film Festival of Boston runs through April 29th. Visit iffboston.org for more information.

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