Tuesday, July 14, 2015 7:30pm
Los Angeles Premiere
(T)ERROR is the first documentary to place filmmakers on the ground during an active FBI counterterrorism sting operation. Through the perspective of “Shariff,” a 63-year-old Black revolutionary turned informant, viewers get an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics and the murky justifications behind them.
The film begins in an undisclosed location in eastern United States. Shariff (whose legal name is Saeed Torres) works as a cook in a middle school cafeteria, but is struggling to make ends meet. When the FBI calls, inviting him to work on a terrorism investigation in Pittsburgh, Shariff reluctantly leaves his young son behind, for what he hopes will be his last case, and a chance to make several hundred thousand dollars.
Upon arrival in Pittsburgh, Shariff informs the filmmakers that the FBI has ordered him to befriend a white Muslim convert named Khalifah Al-Akili, and assess his interest in attending a terrorist training camp abroad. As his investigation of Khalifah unfolds, a parallel examination of Shariff begins as well. Uncovering a complex web of greed, betrayal and regret, (T)ERROR reveals the origins and evolution of Shariff’s complicated past.
Ultimately, we return to Harlem, Shariff’s birthplace, where we learn of his role in imprisoning Tarik Shah, a renowned jazz bassist who, in 2007, received a 15-year sentence for pledging to train Al Qaeda mujahideen in hand-to-hand combat. Shariff explains that it was Shah’s case that forced him to flee New York City and resulted in his excommunication from his friends, family, and community. “At the trial, everyone from the mosque came,” Shariff says. “Because they couldn’t believe it. They had to see it with their own eyes.”
Meanwhile, Shariff finds himself under increasing pressure from the FBI to produce results in the Al- Akili case. Midway through film, a dramatic discovery upends the investigation, and raises serious questions about the ethics, and effectiveness of the FBI’s tactics. Taut, stark, and controversial, (T)ERROR illuminates the fragile relationships between individual and surveillance state in modern America, and asks: Who is watching the watchers?
Directed by Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe, (T)ERROR premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it took home the Special Jury Award for Break Out First Feature.